Gun Test: Nosler M48

Shooting Editor John B. Snow delves into the inner workings of the Nosler M48, quite literally, and gives us a show of the mechanics that make this rifle work.

The company's first rifle, the Nosler Custom, was not intended for the masses. Nosler limited production to 500 per "series," with each series available in one chambering only. There have been just three series to date--the most recent was in .338 Win. Mag.--and should you stumble across a spare $4,195 in your sofa cushions, you can take one home.

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**
Overall Rating**:

REPORT CARD
Performance: A
Design: A+
Price/Value: B+

Verdict: A distinctive, well-balanced and beautifully built hunting rifle that exhibits superlative attention to detail in its design, looks and performance.

Had Nosler stuck to this business model, its rifles, nice as they are, would have remained a niche curiosity and certainly would never have had the chance to enjoy the widespread success of the company's renowned hunting bullets.

However, Nosler's ambitions extended beyond being a boutique gun maker. Since the launch of Nosler Custom, the unit that makes the rifles, the company has expanded its line to include the Model 48, which comes in both sporter and varminter onfigurations, and the just-launched TGR, short for Trophy Grade Rifle. (Look for the TGR in Outdoor Life's exclusive test of new guns in the August issue.)

While not cheap by any means--the Model 48 lists for $2,995 in a short action, the TGR for $1,745--these rifles are not out of reach for the rifleman looking to invest in a high-quality hunting tool. But three grand is still three grand, and that's a lot of coin to part with. What does that money buy, exactly? In the case of the M48 I tested, which was chambered in the excellent 6.5-284 Norma, the answer is quite a lot.

Special Features - Smart Bolt Design
The well-designed geometry of the cocking ramp on the M48 adds to the smoothness of the action. Knurling on the bolt handle provides positive grip.

Sculpted Stock
The scalloped area above the trigger guard helps the rifle transition from the flat of the magazine floor plate to the rounded grip in a graceful fashion.

Bulletproof
The stock, made of Kevlar and carbon fiber, weighs just a pound and a half but is super-strong and tough.

Action!
Compared to most rifles, the M48 has a greater percentage of its weight concentrated in the action. This augments the rifle's excellent handling characteristics. The designers of this rifle understand hunting.

6.5-284 Norma
Loaded with the elegant and accurate 6.5mm bullets, this round is an excellent choice for all but the biggest game.

Built Tough
The M48 is not a showpiece--it is built to withstand scree fields, weeklong downpours, ice and all the other nastiness that goes with serious hunting. The metal, including all interior surfaces, is finished in a non-reflective, ceramic-based coating called CeraKote, which provides excellent corrosion protection and resistance against wear. The stock is protected as well, with a textured paint commonly used in various industrial applications. This gives it a slightly rough finish, which provides a sure gripping surface even when the gun is wet.

The action combines many proven features that have been blended together with the same thoughtful care a Highland distiller gives his whiskey. And, like a fine Scotch, the end result is smooth, strong and satisfying. The two-lug design, with its 90-degree bolt lift, cocks easily on opening and the bolt rides along the raceway like a skater on ice. It uses a push-feed mechanism with a plunger-style ejector and has a large machined extractor of the Sako or AR type. Cut into the underside of the bolt are two substantial oval ports to vent gas down into the magazine, should one of your handloads go nuclear.

Those large ports also make it easier to clean out the inside of the bolt body in case the rifle takes a mud bath. A quarter-twist on the bolt shroud releases the firing pin mechanism, so servicing the bolt in the field is a breeze.

Machined into the underside of the action is a large recoil lug that has a sloping front face, which helps it snug tightly against the rear of the precisely cut mortise in the stock. The bedding between the action and the stock is well executed and even, with no overruns, and the barrel is fully free-floated.

All that smart design wouldn't count for much if the rifle didn't handle and perform well. The excellent accuracy of the rifle--five-shot groups with Nosler's Custom ammunition in 120-grain Ballistic Tip averaged 0.983 inches, with the smallest group measuring 0.658 inches--can be attributed in part to the quality of the hand-lapped barrel from Pac-Nor and the crisp adjustable trigger from Timney, which on my sample broke at just above 3 pounds.

Excellent handling
The M48 is neither too light nor too heavy--it tips the scales unscoped at 6 lb. 11 oz. But there's more to the story than just the readout on a scale. The barrel has been cut down to a light sporter profile. (As an aside, one of the most appealing features of the rifle is its pure hunting lines. There's nothing "target" or "tactical" about it.) And the stock--an engineering marvel constructed of Kevlar and carbon fiber--barely weighs a pound and a half. Yet it's so strong you could use it to beat a Cape buffalo to death. What this means is that a larger proportion of weight is concentrated between your hands, adding greatly to the rifle's lively feel. It moves, shoulders and swings very well.

The rifle has a distinctive look, too. The flat edges on the receiver and the bolt shroud are a carry-over from the action on the Custom model. The designers chose that look initially out of necessity. The Custom comes with integral bases machined into the action, and they felt (rightly so) that the action would look awkward without some more "heft" on its sides. The M48 doesn't have integral bases, so they could have gone with a round look. I'm glad they didn't. The world is awash in round hunting rifles, and the M48's attractive profile is one more reason it stands out.

By the Numbers
Name: Nosler M48 Caliber 6.5-284 Norma
Capacity: 4 + 1 Weight: 6 lb. 11 oz.
Finish: Matte Stock: Synthetic
Barrel Length: 24 in. Rate of Twist: 1 in 9 in.
Overall Length: 44 1/4 in. Trigger Pull: 3 lb. 2 oz.
Price: $3,195 Contact: nosler.com
Accuracy
Best Group: .658 in. Avg. Group Size: .983 in.*
** Average of six 5-shot groups at 100 yards with Nosler 120-gr. BT.