Gun Test: Nosler M48 Independence

A modern take on an iconic bolt-action pistol

nosler m480 independence handgun
The Independence uses a Hogue grip, which can be swapped with any A2-compatible grip.Bill Buckley

When the Remington XP-100 was introduced in 1963, the reaction to the single-shot bolt-action handgun was not tepid. Most people considered the ungainly mutt—with its dogleg bolt handle, vented rib, and shark-fin front sight—an affront to civilized sensibilities. Traditionalists wanted nothing to do with it.

But in the spirit of the adage “handsome is as handsome does,” some handgunners fell under the XP-100’s spell when they realized how accurately it shot and from how far they were able to hit small game, varmints, and steel silhouette targets. Over the years, sentiments toward the odd handgun softened, and it developed a devoted cult of followers. The XP-100 can rightly be credited with significantly advancing the sport of handgun hunting.

Yet that was a generation ago. Remington stopped production on the XP-100 in 1998. How would the shooting public react to such a handgun today?

Well, we’re about to find out because Nosler has just launched the Model 48 Independence, a production version of the M48 NCH (Nosler Custom Handgun) it rolled out last year.

Like the XP-100, the Independence is a bolt-action handgun with the grip situated amidships, close to the balance point. This makes for better handling, because the firearm can be maneuvered more deftly than those with designs where the grip is positioned behind the bolt handle.

It also makes for some engineering challenges, because the trigger is now far removed from the sear that releases the cocked firing pin. Nosler senior engineer Mike Lake tackled this and other issues with the design when he set out to showcase Nosler’s M48 action in this platform.

fire-control system of the nosler handgun
The fire-control system includes a rod that extends from the trigger back to the trigger housing. The rod pushes on small trunnions on both sides of the housing that trip the sear.Bill Buckley

My sample was chambered in 6mm Creedmoor, a moderate cartridge that’s relatively easy to shoot out of the 6.5-pound (unscoped) gun. It also comes in 22 Nosler, 24 Nosler, 6.5 Creed, 7mm-08, and .308 Win.—all of which are great for hunting small- to medium-bodied game.

I topped it with a 2.5–8x32 handgun scope from Leupold. To get proper eye relief on a scope like this, you want the ocular lens positioned as close to the grip on the firearm as possible, which in the case of the Independence meant cheating the scope as far forward as I could get it.

The Nosler’s accuracy was outstanding. The first 100-yard five-shot group, not counting the fouling round, measured just over a quarter of an inch. That was with Hornady’s 103-grain ELD-X hunting load. The next group, with Hornady’s 108-grain ELD Match bullet, measured .569 inch. And this was on a 32-­degree day in a gusty Montana wind that made my shooting bench vibrate like a tuning fork.

Overall, the average group size was an impressive .817 inch, using four different factory 6mm Creedmoor loads, including Barnes’ 112-grain OTM BT. With its 15-inch barrel, which is made by Shilen, the Independence loses about 300 fps in muzzle velocity from published factory data but still has plenty of zip to take game at extended ranges.

The Independence is a stiff, strong gun. The stock is milled from a single piece of aluminum, and before the action is set in place, Nosler adds bedding compound to the front and rear lugs for uniform support. The heavy-contour barrel is free-floated, and threaded at the muzzle for a suppressor or other device.

Specs

Caliber: 6cm
Capacity: 1
Weight: 6 lb. 9 oz.
Trigger Pull: 3 lb. 4 oz.
Barrel Length: 15 in.
Overall Length: 22.5 in.
Price: $1,750
Contact: nosler.com

Shooting Methods

The fore-end on the stock has three holes where you can place the swivel stud and attach a bipod, which is one of the best ways to achieve a solid rest, either off the bench or in the field. With a bag under the grip, you can control the elevation of your crosshairs. Another good field technique is to shoot it off sticks with your elbows braced against your knees.

The fore-end’s flat bottom slopes, making the Independence easy to shoot off a sandbag or rest as well, which is how I shot it when compiling the accuracy data above. A slight amount of adjustment forward or back will raise or lower your crosshairs, respectively.

On the Hunt

For carrying the gun afield, Nos­ler drilled a threaded hole on the rear of the stock, just under the bolt release tab where a second swivel stud can be added. With a sling attached, the Independence rides nicely on the shooter’s back, keeping the bolt handle facing away from the torso.

The colors on the first run of guns are two shades of Cerakote: a gunmetal gray on the stock, and “blackout” black on the rest. I like the scheme a lot. It complements the sci-fi-inspired sculpting on the stock and gives the Independence some serious space-gat cred.

ammo magazine of the nosler independence handgun
To create a closed-bottom receiver that feeds smoothly, a dish-shaped piece of steel is tack-welded to fill the opening where the magazine would normally be.Bill Buckley

This is not the final form of the Independence, however.

The second generation, which should be coming out later this year, will have anodized stocks and some ergonomic changes.

For a left-handed handgunner like myself, having the bolt on the right side of the gun is ideal. I can maintain my grip while my right hand works the bolt and feeds cartridges into the receiver. But the majority of shooters out there, being righties, will want the bolt on the opposite side.

Also, the cross-bolt safety, as currently configured, is better suited to right-handers. For lefties, it should move the other way. The answer, of course, is to make a reversible safety.

Once these options become available, this handy little tack-driver will become even more appealing, solidifying its status as the XP-100’s rightful heir.

The Score

Handling: Very Good
Accuracy: Excellent
Workmanship: Very Good
Aesthetics: Very Good
Ergonomics: Good
Meets Purpose: Excellent
Versatility: Good
Reliability: Excellent
Value: Good