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A Hunter’s Rifle: Nosler Model 48 Trophy Grade Review

by Steve Gash   |  April 1st, 2012 2

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In 2006 Nosler, Inc. introduced the Model 48 Trophy Grade rifle. The goals were straightforward. Build a high-quality, weather-proof hunting rifle that had guaranteed accuracy, didn’t weigh a ton and had the most sought-after features of a custom rifle. Plus, it had to be done on a semi-production basis and—significantly—sell for a competitive price. The M48 is offered in calibers ranging from varmint busters to those appropriate for almost any big game.

Nosler saw no reason to reinvent the wheel, so rather than tool up to make stuff that’s already available, the various components of the M48 are built to Nosler’s specs by outside contractors, making cost-effective production easier. But all assembly of the M48 is done at Nosler’s Bend, Oregon, factory, thus ensuring that Nosler retains quality control over the finished product.

The heart of the M48 is the action, and it incorporates virtually all-current elements of what make an accurate rifle. It is a push-feed with a large pivoting extractor and a plunger ejector. The receiver is aesthetically sculpted in an angular pattern that provides handy flat surfaces on which various data are engraved. The receiver is drilled and tapped and the appropriate bases are the same as for the Remington M700.

The bolt has two locking lugs, and a couple of vent holes along its length allow the escape of powder gases in the event of a cartridge case failure. The blind magazine makes it impossible to accidentally dump your reserve ammo in the dirt at an inopportune moment. It holds four standard (or three magnum-size) rounds, with one additional round in the chamber. The two-position safety is nestled right behind the bolt handle. In the “on” position the bolt is locked. The bolt release is an unobtrusive lever on the left-hand side of the action.

The adjustable trigger is supplied by Rifle Basix and is set at a crisp three pounds. The enlarged triggerguard provides easy assess for a gloved finger.

Since the M48 is destined for hunting fields far and wide, a Cerakote finish is applied to all exterior surfaces, which results in a soft, light gray that is attractive and functional. Add the Micro Slick finish on the innards and this rifle is about as weatherproof as possible.

Metal parts wallowing around in the stock do nothing for accuracy or consistent zero, and that, too, has been addressed. The action and about the first two inches of the barrel are glass-bedded in an aluminum chassis that solidly mates the metal to the stock about as tightly as possible. After that, the 24-inch hand-lapped Pac-Nor chrome moly barrel is free-floated.The M48 is guaranteed to shoot three-shot, MOA groups with Nosler ammunition.

The stock is a custom composite from Bell and Carlson and is finished in a dark gray that contrasts nicely with the lighter-colored metal, and its spiderweb pattern provides a slight “texture” for a good anti-slip grip in inclement weather. A recoil pad and sling-swivel studs are installed.

I received a new M48 in .243 Winchester for testing and then took it to Utah on an antelope hunt. The rifle was topped with a relatively large Leupold VX-III 3.5-10×40 scope. But even with it on, the rifle checked in at a mere 7 pounds, 11 ounces. With a compact 2-7X or fixed-power, it’d weigh even less.

I shot three five-shot groups, and the M48 easily averaged less than one MOA with one Nosler and five other brands of factory loads. The lone exception was the Nosler custom 90-grain E-Tip ammo. This was not surprising to me. I’ve shot the E-Tip bullet in several rifles, and in my experience, a rifle either likes the E-Tip or it doesn’t. I believe that if the E-Tip bullet diameter matches the groove diameter exactly, the bullet will shoot; otherwise, accuracy with it is a sometimes thing. The next rifle off the line may shoot this load great. You’ll just have to try it and see.

Last fall, I was on the Deseret Ranch in far Northeast Utah. I was joined by fellow writer Richard Mann and Nosler’s Zach Waterman, and our quarry was pronghorn antelope. We’d be testing a prototype bullet—Nosler’s 90-grain 6mm AccuBond. Zach had loaded up some ammo in Nosler cases at a listed velocity of 3,200 fps (factory loads should be available shortly).

We saw scads of antelope, including lots of nice bucks. Shortly after noon the first day, guide Dave Bunce spied a plump specimen with a handsome dark face and heavy hooks lying down on a bare hill at 196 yards, placidly chewing his cud. Since we had only two days to hunt, I didn’t dally. After a quick assessment, I snuggled in over an improvised rest and took a shot. The buck simply plopped his head down and never twitched. Penetration was complete, so the bullet wasn’t recovered, but you couldn’t ask for a better outcome. Incidentally, that buck was the first game animal taken with the new 90-grain AccuBond.

Later that day, Richard made a terrific shot with his M48, also in . 243, on another good buck at 417 yards in a howling wind. Same result: one shot, one antelope. The next day I played guide as Zach and I trundled over hill after hill, carefully glassing for “sentries” before moving on. I told him he couldn’t miss because he was using the same rifle I used the previous day. He drove me crazy, turning down buck after buck! Finally, I spied a standing doe viewing us with considerable interest. As I glassed, I noticed a nice buck lying down beside her at what turned out to be 203 yards. I relayed the news to Zach, who came up for a peek. This buck passed his inspection, so Zach unfolded his shooting sticks and fired. I wish I could report that an exciting chase then ensued, but this buck’s chin hit the ground so hard it bounced, and he never moved. So, three shots, three antelope, complete penetration and no prolonged foot chases after wounded game.

The Nosler Model 48 was designed as a hunter’s rifle to meet several specific criteria, and it seems to have done that admirably on the range and in the field. Yes, its MSRP of $1,795 is a lot of money, but when its features and performance are compared to less expensive production rifles—or more expensive custom ones—it is highly competitive. Then there are the results, and you sure can’t argue with them.

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