The Nosler System

This new rifle, scope and ammo combo raises the bar for accuracy.

Nosler Rifle

Nosler Rifle

Nosler RifleOutdoor Life Online Editor

It's always a big deal when a new brand of rifle appears on the hunting scene-even bigger when the rifle bears a name like Nosler, the company known worldwide for its Partition bullets. But perhaps the biggest deal of all is that the new Nosler Custom Rifle (NCR) incorporates an "in-tegrated" system in which the rifle, scope and ammo are designed for each other and interact as a single ballistic unit.

The reason this is an important innovation is because it could very well influence the way we buy scopes, rifles and ammo in the not too distant future. But to understand the impact of Nosler's innovative approach better, let's review the various ways we make a bullet hit what we shoot at.

Beating Gravity
If bullets traveled in a straight path, we'd have few problems hitting distant targets. Instead, the instant a bullet exits the muzzle of a gun it falls into the relentless grasp of gravity and is sucked to earth. The downward curving flight of a bullet (in relation to the bore line), as Outdoor Life readers are well aware, is called its trajectory. We're also pretty well versed in ways to outwit gravity, however momentarily.

Our most used trick, of course, is simply to sight-in a little high. When we zero our rifles and pistols we adjust the sights so that the bullet hits somewhat above our point of aim at closer ranges. Another way we compensate for the bullet's drop is by applying "Kentucky elevation," meaning we aim above the spot we actually want to hit.

Programming Elevation
A more technically sophisticated way to get a bullet on target at known and unknown ranges, especially the longer distances, is to readjust the sight.

Target shooters who fire at different but known distances know from experience how many clicks of the sight adjustment are necessary to shift the point of impact from, say, 300 to 600 yards. Some long-range hunters use a similar sight-adjusting technique, but unlike at target ranges, precise hunting distances are usually unknown and only guesstimated.

At long ranges, where the bullet is pitching sharply downward, a ranging error of only a few yards can cause the bullet to go either over or under a deer-size target, which is why accurate range finders and sophisticated ballistics tables are a must. Some computer-generated tables and handheld ballistics calculators compute the effects of temperature, air density and wind drift and even tell the hunter how many clicks of sight change are necessary to get the bullet on point of aim.

The advantage of this system, obviously, is that it eliminates (for the most part) the uncertainty of Kentucky elevation, allowing the hunter to aim precisely at the spot he wants to hit. The downside, of course, is the time it takes to take the readings and make adjustments, during which a nice bull elk might decide that he's better off on the other side of the mountain. The technique, as applied to long-range shooting, also calls for above-average marksmanship and technical know-how. This is why the long shot and bragging rights are sometimes considered as great a trophy as the animal itself.

[pagebreak] All of the foregoing is by way of background, leading to a description of a telescopic sight that actually "knows" where your bullet will hit at different ranges and requires no adjustment or Kentucky elevation. The concept goes back many years, and I have no idea where or how it got started, but I'd guess it was in some military, sniper-type application.

The first such scopes I ever looked through had a series of horizontal crosswires, or stadia, in the reticle that the shooter used for aiming at different distances. Presumably, the shooter learned from experience and trajectory charts which of the crosswires put his bullet more or less on target at various distances. These scopes were from before World War II, when ballistics was not thecience it is now and there wasn't a computer on every desk. Even so, the concept was valid and it fell to a reticle wizard named Dick Thomas to put it all together in a reticle that knows the trajectory of a particular bullet and puts it on target at different ranges with quite remarkable precision.

A Scope that "Knows"
To understand how Thomas and his company, Premier Reticles, makes this work, let's say you have a fancy rifle custom-built for long-range hunting and you want a reticle for aiming at 300, 400 and 500 yards. The first step in the process is knowing not only the caliber of your rifle but the exact bullet you'll be using and the precise muzzle velocity of your ammo. The reason I say "exact" is because bullets of different shapes, even those of the same caliber and weight, fly through the air differently and have different trajectories. By knowing the specific velocity and ballistic profile of a bullet, Thomas and his associates can accurately compute its trajectory and use this data to custom-build a reticle for your scope.

There are, however, certain limitations to such an aiming system. One obvious problem is that game animals have the discourteous habit of not always positioning themselves at precise range intervals. For instance, an uncooperative bull elk might present himself at 462 yards instead of at 400 or 500 yards, where he's supposed to be. This means that if you aim with the 400-yard reticle dot you'll hit low and the 500-yard dot will hit high, so you have to interpolate your aim somewhere between the two reticle dots. Still, this is far more accurate than trying to apply Kentucky elevation with a standard reticle.

Another drawback is that such reticles are accurate only with a particular bullet at a specific velocity. Change either and the system goes haywire except for close shots. This is why such reticles have appealed almost exclusively to hard-core riflemen who dote on long-range shooting and handload their own ammo. In fact, most multi-range reticles are installed to match the customer's favorite caliber and handload. Which brings us to Nosler's "integrated" rifle-scope-ammo package and why it just might change the way we think about shooting systems.

[pagebreak] Nosler's Custom Rifle
The Nosler Custom Rifle (NCR) is a handsome thing (we'll get into details later on), but it would be just another pretty rifle without the Leupold Custom Shop 2.5-8X scope that comes with it.

With a multi-range reticle similar to the Premier reticle described above, there are four dots plus the crosshair, which puts bullets on target at 100, 200, 300, 400 and 500 yards with a dead-on hold. This is the latest series of Leupold's VX-III scopes and features ¼-MOA click adjustments that you can feel and hear. By the way, the scope's serial number matches that of the NCR rifle it comes with.

The third, and most vital, element of Nosler's integrated system is its custom-loaded ammo. The first rifles of the custom series are chambered for the .300 Winchester Short Magnum and the matching ammo is loaded with Nosler's 180-grain AccuBond bullet at a muzzle velocity of 2,976 feet per second. Nosler supplies custom-loaded ammunition. The ammo must be exact and consistent in order for the calibrated scope reticle to put the bullets where they're supposed to be.

Nosler will continue producing this same load for years to come, and handloaders can duplicate the load using the AccuBond bullet. This is the most accurate .300 WSM ammo I've tested to date, by the way, and it should deliver top performance in any make of rifle in this chambering.

When you're trying to hit a target at 500 yards, accuracy becomes a major factor, which is why the NCR was designed from the ground up rather than being assembled from available components, as many so-called custom rifles are. Though their focus may have been on accuracy, the folks at Nosler also had an eye for appearance when they designed this rifle.

Perhaps most eye-catching of all is the receiver of the NCR, which has a "double square bridge" profile reminiscent of the famed square-bridge Mausers of long ago. These integral bridges, which are far more secure and better-looking than screw-attached scope bases, let Leupold Quick Release scope rings lock directly into the receiver.

More Features
Other standout features on this rifle include the Blackburn-style "straddle butt" hinged floorplate and checkered panels on the bolt knob, which are always a nice touch when hand-cut, as those on my test rifle appeared to be.

The two-lug bolt is a push-feed design with spring-plunger ejection, and the bolt plug is sculpted to match the receiver's flat contour styling. The trigger is made by Timney; the one I tested had a crisp 2 pound 12 ounce letoff-very nice indeed.

The stock is strikingly figured walnut and the styling is almost pure classic, with clean, straight lines and a graceful, shadow-lined cheekpiece. A lot of skill is evident here, especially in the ample checkering on the grip panels and wrap-around forend pattern. The hand-cut patterns are classic point style and look to be about 22 lines to the inch.

Other nice touches are the real ebony forend cap and Talley-style sling stud at the butt. Departures from the traditional rifle are the glass-bedded receiver and free-floated barrel, both being virtual prerequisites for the accuracy needed for honest 500-yard shooting.

The finish is low-luster with the grain well filled, the type that keeps looking better as more hand-rubbed coats of linseed oil are applied. All metal surfaces are non-reflective matte black.

[pagebreak] How It Shot
Nosler's claim of half-inch three-shot groups at 100 yards was pretty much verified by testing. Although I always fire five-shot test groups (those final two shots reveal a lot), the first three shots of my five test groups were measured separately and averaged close to a half inch, with the first two shots actually overlapping in three of the groups. The barrel warmed after three shots and the five-shot groups increased to an inch or a little more.

The NCR I tested weighed 9 pounds 2 ounces with scope, which may seem heavy in today's weight-obsessed hunting circles, but not for a magnum caliber. Much of the weight is in the medium-stiff 24-inch barrel, where it does the most good and also gives the rifle a well-balanced feel.

There will be only 500 NCR rifles built in this caliber, and the price of $3,995 includes the scope, a couple of boxes of custom-loaded ammo, a top-quality aluminum case and shipping. You can request a special serial number for this and subsequent caliber issues. And if you don't like theen on accuracy, the folks at Nosler also had an eye for appearance when they designed this rifle.

Perhaps most eye-catching of all is the receiver of the NCR, which has a "double square bridge" profile reminiscent of the famed square-bridge Mausers of long ago. These integral bridges, which are far more secure and better-looking than screw-attached scope bases, let Leupold Quick Release scope rings lock directly into the receiver.

More Features
Other standout features on this rifle include the Blackburn-style "straddle butt" hinged floorplate and checkered panels on the bolt knob, which are always a nice touch when hand-cut, as those on my test rifle appeared to be.

The two-lug bolt is a push-feed design with spring-plunger ejection, and the bolt plug is sculpted to match the receiver's flat contour styling. The trigger is made by Timney; the one I tested had a crisp 2 pound 12 ounce letoff-very nice indeed.

The stock is strikingly figured walnut and the styling is almost pure classic, with clean, straight lines and a graceful, shadow-lined cheekpiece. A lot of skill is evident here, especially in the ample checkering on the grip panels and wrap-around forend pattern. The hand-cut patterns are classic point style and look to be about 22 lines to the inch.

Other nice touches are the real ebony forend cap and Talley-style sling stud at the butt. Departures from the traditional rifle are the glass-bedded receiver and free-floated barrel, both being virtual prerequisites for the accuracy needed for honest 500-yard shooting.

The finish is low-luster with the grain well filled, the type that keeps looking better as more hand-rubbed coats of linseed oil are applied. All metal surfaces are non-reflective matte black.

[pagebreak] How It Shot
Nosler's claim of half-inch three-shot groups at 100 yards was pretty much verified by testing. Although I always fire five-shot test groups (those final two shots reveal a lot), the first three shots of my five test groups were measured separately and averaged close to a half inch, with the first two shots actually overlapping in three of the groups. The barrel warmed after three shots and the five-shot groups increased to an inch or a little more.

The NCR I tested weighed 9 pounds 2 ounces with scope, which may seem heavy in today's weight-obsessed hunting circles, but not for a magnum caliber. Much of the weight is in the medium-stiff 24-inch barrel, where it does the most good and also gives the rifle a well-balanced feel.

There will be only 500 NCR rifles built in this caliber, and the price of $3,995 includes the scope, a couple of boxes of custom-loaded ammo, a top-quality aluminum case and shipping. You can request a special serial number for this and subsequent caliber issues. And if you don't like the