September 23, 2010
Nosler's newest Model 48 puts semi-custom craftsmanship within reach
By J. Scott Rupp
"PIGS!" guide Brian Cope called out as he slammed on the brakes. I caught motion on the far side of a canyon to our left and bailed out of the truck, shoving 165-grain Nosler Custom Accu¬Bonds into the rifle's magazine as I hustled to the canyon rim. I spotted the three hogs moving quickly uphill into heavy brush on the opposite side a little over 200 yards away, and with little time to waste I plopped down on my butt, wrapped my arm tightly into the sling and locked into a good, solid sitting position.
The lead pig had already disappeared, the second one was about to, but I had an open shot at the trailing member of the trio--a decent-size red boar--if I could take it before he vanished. The crosshairs locked solidly on his chest, I held just a little bit high, and the .308 boomed.
The hog dropped at the shot, and Brian and my hunting partner, Nosler's Zach Waterman, were all smiles.
"Hell, we thought we were going to have to bring you more ammo to get those pigs," Zach said with a laugh.
I was still in position, watching the boar, which was thrashing on its side, usually the sign of a fatal heart/lung hit. But since we had a ways to walk to get to where the hog was, I put my cheek back on the stock and sent another AccuBond on its way. We heard the bullet hit, and the boar lay still.
That wasn't my first kill with Nosler's new Model 48 Trophy Grade. The day before I'd connected on an easy 75-yard shot on a nice whitetail on Texas' famed Nail Ranch, and I'd toted it on numerous rattling setups over several days as well--placing it on shooting sticks or using natural rests to be ready for any big bucks that might be attracted to Brian's efforts with the rattling horns.
The Texas trip was, however, my first hands-on exposure to Nosler's rifle line, and I certainly wasn't disappointed.
Metal surfaces are finished in tough, corrosion-resistant Cerakote. One gripe: The two-position safety proved a little too easy to push off.
Last year, in a roundup of new hunting rifles, I wrote that if I ever became rich and famous I'd be able to get a Nosler Custom rifle. Well, I'm still not rich, still not famous, but thanks to this newest gun from the renowned bullet maker, I am one step closer to being able to own one. And so are you.
"Nosler felt it was important to offer an affordable, semi-custom rifle that competes directly with other well-known rifles in its class," Zach told me. "Coupled with Nosler Trophy Grade ammunition, it has a guaranteed performance of one m.o.a. or better for three-shot groups at 100 yards. Nosler is known for setting benchmarks in the bullet industry and is now prepared to raise the bar in the rifle industry with the Trophy Grade rifle."
The new Model 48 Trophy Grade isn't exactly cheap at $1,745 (short action), but it's a lot more affordable than the company's M48 Custom Sporter and Limited Edition rifles, which have more bells and whistles and sell for $2,995 and $4,195 respectively. And it is competitively priced, as Zach says, with others in its class such as Sako (a Finnlight will set you back $1,600) and, to a lesser extent, Kimber (8400 Montana, $1,300).
The Trophy Grade is built around the company's Model 48 action, a flat-bottom design that's investment cast from 4140 steel and features an integral recoil lug.
The Trophy Grade weighs seven pounds sans scope, which some might deem a tad heavy for a .308, but it's superbly balanced and rock solid in field shooting positions.
The action is mated to a handsome black/gray spiderweb Bell & Carlson synthetic stock. This isn't a Bell & Carlson you can buy from your friendly neighborhood retailer, though; it's a proprietary Nosler design that also features aluminum bedding for stability.
My first impression was that the stock is a bit too substantial for my taste (and hand size), but the more I shot it and handled it, the more I came to like its beefy wrist and the feel of the fore-end. And it's got just a hint of cast like a shotgun stock does, so for right-handers like me, the rifle comes quickly to the eye and is fast to get on target.
The butt features a shadow-line cheekpiece and is capped by a Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad. Sling swivel studs are installed fore and aft, naturally.
The 24-inch, button-rifled Pac-Nor chrome moly barrel is no wispy tube either. In .308 chambering, Nosler uses a heavy taper that goes from 1.17 inches in diameter at the receiver to 0.77 at the fore-end tip to 0.66 at the muzzle. It's the same taper you'll find on the other .30 calibers except the .30-06, which employs a light taper like that found on the .270 Winchester, .270 WSM and .280 Ackley Trophy Grades.
As are other exterior surfaces of the action, the barrel is finished in Cerakote. Independent tests have shown Cerakote to be more than seven times more wear resistant and offer 50 times more corrosion resistance than competitive coatings, and it can withstand impacts of up to 160 pounds per square inch without coating loss.
Cerakote is applied after final polishing and a light bead blast, creating an attractive gray, nonreflective finish that's tough as nails.
Nosler's Model 48 action houses a two-lug, investment-cast bolt--also of 4140 steel--with a Sako-type extractor and a plunger ejector. A slot cut in the right locking lug mates to a guide rail in the receiver tube for smooth, nonbinding bolt cycling.
The bolt body features two cuts or slots. They're core supports for the investment casting process, but more important to shooters, they vent gases out of the bolt in case of a primer rupture.
The Trophy Grade is built on the same Nosler Model 48 action as its higher-end
brethren and features a good-looking Bell & Carlson stock designed by Nosler.
The bolt handle is swept back ever so slightly, and there's a band of knurling on the knob. This knurling is a tad sharper than it needs to be as it does abrade your hand if you're doing a lot of fast bolt work. Conversely, it provides a sure gripping surface if you're wearing gloves.
Interior metals are coated with MicroSlick, a dry-film lubricant made by the same company that manufactures Cerakote. MicroSlick is a permanently lubricated surface coating that reduces wear and especially friction between mated parts.
A push-button bolt release with a serrated face is located on the left side of the receiver. On the right is a two-position sliding safety. Here I have a nit to pick with Nosler. Now, I'm a big fan of the two-position safety, Ã la the rocker style found on the Remington 700, but in the field I found that the Nosler two-position switch moves a little too easily.
I frequently check the condition of a rifle's safety while I'm hunting, and on the Texas trip I discovered more than once that the safety had slid to the off position--probably due to banging against my pack or pushing against my heavy wool jacket while carrying it slung. I think it needs a more positive detent or should require more leverage to deactivate.
Rupp killed this pig at more than 200 yards on the Trophy Grade's maiden voyage. Overall he thinks it's a good-shooting, fine-handling rifle.
The trigger€¦now here's a thing to gladden the heart of any rifleman. It's a Rifle Basix adjustable job that comes from the factory set at three pounds. Why anybody would want to adjust it is beyond me. It's crisp as a clear autumn day and breaks with incredible consistency. My Lyman digital gauge gave me a five-pull average of two pounds, 15 ounces, and the variances were never more than 1/2 ounce.
The trigger is framed by a guard with a bow that is enlarged ever so slightly toward the front, which I found handy since it was uncommonly cold in Texas and I was wearing gloves much of the time.
All of these features combine to make the Nosler 48 Trophy Grade a good-shooting, nice-handling hunting rifle. The company promises that it will shoot sub-m.o.a. with its Trophy Grade ammo, although as you can see in the accompanying chart I didn't quite make the grade there.
However, I did achieve sub-m.o.a. accuracy with two loads from Federal--including that company's plain Jane 150-grain softpoint--and the other loads I tried weren't that far above the inch mark.
I found the rifle a joy to shoot from the bench and from field positions, both helped along by the rifle's weight (seven pounds plus Leupold VX-III 4.5-14x50 Long Range, which weighs just a shade over a pound, plus bases and rings), its balance, the terrific trigger and the eminently shootable .308 Winchester chambering.
From offhand, the 200-yard gong was almost a cake walk, and from sling-assisted sitting I was ringing steel all the way out to 400.
Okay, now for the almost-obligatory fault-finding. I already discussed the safety and noted the bolt knob knurling. Other than that I have only two gripes.
One, for a hunting .308 I think it could stand to be a bit lighter, which could be accomplished by employing the light-taper barrel. The only other short-action Trophy Grade with this taper is the .270 WSM, which weighs 6.5 pounds. That sounds about right to me. (And besides, why would you go with the heavy taper in the .308 but the light in the '06?)
Two, I'm not a fan of blind magazines. Nosler went with this design to keep down costs (and, to an extent, weight), but if I'm paying more than $1,700 for a rifle, I want a hinged floorplate. We all have our preferences.
It seems that the older I get, the more I bemoan the high cost of the guns I want. Yes, $1,745 is a lot of money, but in no way is it out of line with what rifles cost these days--especially considering the Trophy Grade's pedigree and the nature of its construction.
"Quite a bit of handwork goes into each rifle at our Bend, Oregon, facility," says Nosler's Mike Lake. "We lap the recoil lugs, machine the bolt face, completely metal-fit all metal parts in the white, and we headspace and fit each barrel."
The Model 48 action is a flat-bottom design that's investment cast of 4140 steel and features an integral recoil lug. The excellent trigger is a Rifle Basix. The bolt is investment cast out of 4140 steel and sports a Sako-type extractor and plunger ejector. Holes in the body vent gases in event of a case rupture.
That's something you won't get with production guns, which is why it costs more. And when you consider features such as its well-built stock, high-end finishes and first-rate trigger, plus its accuracy guarantee, I think the Model 48 Trophy Grade justifies its price tag.
If you take the plunge, I'm positive you won't experience buyer's remorse when you discover what a nice-handling, fine-shooting rifle it is.
Gun services provided by Turners Outdoorsman, turners.com. Range facilities provided by Angeles Ranges.