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Ammo Bolt Action Rifles SHOT Show 2014

New .26 Nosler: Nosler M48 Trophy Grade Rifle Review

by Craig Boddington   |  March 3rd, 2014 12

WHEN I WAS A KID, the .264 Winchester Magnum was the brightest star on the horizon. Introduced in 1958, it took off like a rocket, except that it fizzled fast when Remington introduced the 7mm Remington Magnum just four years later. I concede that Remington’s Big Seven is more versatile, but in those days it took longer for word to get around. I wasn’t yet 15 when I got my first .264, and I thought it was magical. I lost that rifle in a burglary in the early ’80s, and although I retained a soft spot for the cartridge, a quarter-century passed before I built up another .264.

By then I knew better. There was blue sky in the original figures for the .264, especially in my 24-inch tube, so I never got the velocity I thought I was getting, nor did anyone else. Jack O’Connor was probably correct in damning the .264 with faint praise, saying it wasn’t much different from his beloved .270, except that 6.5mm bullets are heavy for caliber and hold up very well downrange. The current .264 140-grain factory load is rated at 3,030 feet per second. My .264 has a 26-inch tube, and I can get 3,100 fps from a 140-grain bullet. At that velocity, it does great things at longer ranges, but it’s a stretch to call it really fast.

So, being a bit of a 6.5mm fan, I got excited when Nosler gave a sneak preview of the .26 Nosler. It was supposed to push a 140-grain bullet at 3,375 fps, a quantum leap over the .264, except that Nosler was wrong about the velocity. In the 26-inch barrel of the Nosler Model 48 I used, actual average velocity was 3,425 fps — a bonus of 50 fps.

The RUM Case
The .26 Nosler’s parent case is the 7mm Remington Ultra Mag., a wonderfully fast cartridge but definitely overbore capacity and sensitive to the powders it will accept. This was mitigated somewhat by shortening the case to (nominally) 2½ inches, which allows it to fit into a standard .30-’06-length action. The case is then necked down to 6.5mm, retaining the 40-degree shoulder and a full-caliber neck. The RUM case, based on the old .404 Jeffery, has a larger diameter (.550 inch) than belted magnums based on the .375 H&H case (which includes the .264), so powder capacity is considerably greater.

The rim is rebated to .532, so a standard belted magnum bolt face requires no alteration. If you’re thinking like me, yes, that means a .264 Winchester Magnum can be rechambered to the new cartridge. It will be overbore capacity, as the .264 is, which means that propellant selection for optimum performance is limited, and it’s unlikely that barrel life will be extensive. On the other hand, we have more and better powders today than we did back in the 1960s. We may also have better barrels, but let’s face it: You aren’t going to gain an honest 300 fps without any trade-off. Like the .264 and, realistically, any of the full-length RUMs, you really need a 26-inch tube to get full velocity, which probably accounts for the velocity bonus I experienced.

Meet the .26
There must have been some interesting discussions regarding the naming of the cartridge. It is the first cartridge to bear the Nosler name, so both the company and the family are excited about it. Using 6.5mm/.264-caliber bullets, the “26” is nominally correct, but the use of just two digits is unusual today. Obviously, Nosler wanted to avoid potential confusion with the .260 Remington and .264 Winchester Magnum, and just perhaps it wanted to avoid using the “6.5mm” designation. Although cartridges such as the 6.5/.284 and 6.5mm Creedmoor have done very well in competitive circles, the 6.5mm has not achieved the popularity in the United States that it has in Europe. Over there, the old 6.5×55 Swedish Mauser is a standard, and, although almost unknown over here, the unbelted 6.5×68 remains popular. It is actually faster than our .264, but it isn’t as fast as the .26 Nosler. The new cartridge, however, is still a 6.5mm, but perhaps it will be the 6.5mm cartridge that at long last breaks the curse.

It was November 2013 when I got my hands on one of the first .26 Nosler rifles and a batch of ammo. The boxes were Nosler Trophy Grade, which is consistently good ammo, but at this stage the project was still in final experimentation. Therefore, this was handloaded ammo, and although cases were headstamped “Nosler,” they still read “7mm Rem. Ultra Mag.”

The only load was 140-grain Nosler AccuBond, which is a good bullet and a fine choice, but opportunities to make comparisons were limited. In trying to find niches for its relatively new lines of loaded ammo, Nosler has done some interesting things. These have included the first factory loads for the .280 Ackley Improved and also an extensive array of loads for the long-neglected .264. In my own .264, I actually shifted to 129-grain Hornady and 130-grain Nosler bullets so I could get a bit more velocity. A 130-grain load for the .26 should wring out an extra 100 fps, but for larger game the case should still propel the 160-grain slug at an extremely meaningful velocity.

Flat, Really Flat
Additional bullet weights lay in the future; for now, let’s focus on that 140-grain load. The reason I went back to the .264 after so many years is that, although actual velocity isn’t much faster than the .270 Winchester (and not as fast as the .270 WSM or .270 Weatherby Magnum), the better aerodynamics of the 6.5mm bullet gives it awesome downrange performance. Add 300 fps and retain the carrying abilities of the 140-grain 6.5mm bullet, and you have something very interesting going on.

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