It was well past dark when I got back to the house. I’d called carefully and plaintively, even working a section of rimrock up on a ridge where I’d never before set foot. Nothing came in, so I guess the word was out. My coyotes—of which I have too many—were in their dens quivering, because they knew the end was near. Hey, we’ve all seen the ads, and they’re clever. If I were a coyote, I’d be afraid. Very afraid. Because I was carrying Nosler’s Varmageddon AR and ready for all the shots that were never presented.
There’s nothing new about a really accurate AR. It’s a proven action, and if you mate it with a good barrel and feed it well, you can have “varmint level” accuracy. Since 1948, when John Nosler created the Partition bullet, the company that bears his name has been known primarily as a bullet manufacturer. However, there’s nothing new about Nosler rifles; the company has been offering limited-run semi-custom bolt actions for several years now. There’s nothing new about loaded Nosler ammunition either; the Nosler Custom line has been in production for some time.
Oregonians Against Varmints
However respected Nosler’s products might be, the company hasn’t been known for extra-accurate varmint loads with explosive expansion, or ARs, or optics, for that matter. Until Varmageddon. This may spell the end for many varmints, but for Nosler it’s the culmination of a unique partnership between three Oregon companies.
The ammo part of the equation was easy. Nosler simply expanded this technology into a new line of Varmageddon bullets, both hollowpoint and polymer-tipped and loaded ammo as well. In bullets, the line includes .172 (20-grain), .204 (32-grain), .224 (40- and 55-grain) and .243 (55-grain).
In loaded ammunition, initial Varmageddon offerings include .17 Remington, .204 Ruger, .221 Remington Fireball (40-grain), .222 Remington (40-grain), .223 Remington (55-grain), .22-250 Remington (55-grain) and .243 Winchester (55-grain). Varmageddon ammo employs the same meticulous case preparation as Nosler’s Custom line—case-length inspected, necks chamfered and trued, flash holes inspected. From what I’ve seen, it’s all good, but we’ll stick with the 55-grain .223 Remington load because it’s part of the basis for the Varmageddon triumvirate of ammo, rifle and scope.
As a company, Nosler is no stranger to the AR frame. After all, the company offers bullets, loaded ammo and a reloading manual that includes data for a number of cartridges intended primarily for the AR platform. But making an AR from scratch is something else again, so Nosler turned to Noveske Rifleworks. Nosler is located in Bend, Ore., just west of the center of the state. I don’t think it’s entirely coincidental that Noveske is just a couple hours southwest in Grants Pass.
This whole thing reeks of an Oregon conspiracy against varmints. Especially when you consider that there are more than 80 firms large and small making rifles on AR platforms throughout the country and Nosler could have partnered with any of them. So there may be some hint of parochialism in the choice, but there’s more to it than that. Noveske is known as a maker of top-quality, super-accurate ARs, and you really can’t blame Nosler for partnering with a neighbor.
The rifle is “Varmageddon by Nosler.” Noveske’s name is all over the rifle, so there’s no subterfuge. Although it’s built to Nosler’s specifications, I suspect the charge to Noveske was fairly simple: “Build the ultimate varmint package on the AR frame, and make sure it delivers the accuracy varmint hunters expect.”
Varmageddon the rifle is complete as sold, including two Magpul magazines (20- and 30-round), Troy folding iron sights and a Varmageddon-logo soft case. With an MSRP of $2,295, it qualifies as a high-end AR—not the highest, but a long way from the lowest. I admit to being skeptical at first, but after spending some quality time with the Varmageddon I think it’s a lot of gun for the money. Because it’s intended and designed as a varmint rifle, a scope is an essential part of the equation. But which one?
The Third Element
Nosler made the choice easy. From centrally located Bend, they went southwest to find an AR manufacturer. For optics they went northwest, to Beaverton, Ore., home of Leupold. Undoubtedly eager to be part of this Oregon-based varmint conspiracy, Leupold quickly came on board with a Varmageddon edition of its Vari-X III 4.5-14x50mm. Ever since it was introduced, the Leupold 4.5-14X has been one of my favorites. I hunt in the West, and because of heat waves and mirage it isn’t often than I can actually use much more power than 14X.
Then there’s the question of the .223 cartridge. It’s a wonderful varmint load, but it isn’t the fastest .22 centerfire, and it doesn’t carry as well as larger calibers with heavier bullets. So while it’s great under most conditions, it isn’t an extreme-range round. Magnification to 14X does everything most of us need a .223 to do, and the lower settings are just fine for stalking or predator calling in close cover.
The 4.5-14X with a light-gathering 50mm objective is thus a good match for an accurate .223 varminter—but there’s more. Leupold’s Varmageddon scope has the external-adjustment CDS turret calibrated to (you guessed it) Nosler’s 55-grain polymer-tipped Varmageddon load. Sight in at 100 yards and you can dial the turret to 500 yards—pretty much the limit of the .223’s effectiveness. The obvious marketing intent was to combine rifle/scope/ammo under the Varmageddon trademark, which is a catchy idea. The “complete” Varmageddon package includes the Leupold scope and mounts at an MSRP of $3,195. Admittedly, this is getting up there in dollars. In addition to the scope and Leupold Mk2 mount, the package includes Harris bipod, sling, KeyMod swivel stud and a couple boxes of 55-grain Varmageddon ammo to get started with. So if you take a deep breath and think about it, the package price isn’t too bad.
- The entire Varmageddon concept is the rifle, scope and load all mated together.
We need to address the most obvious issue. The problem with all such systems is that it’s “one rifle, one scope, one load.” What happens if you run out of that load or you switch to a different brand? Or maybe you handload? This is not the end of the world. My experience with Varmageddon ammo is that it’s really good stuff. It is also explosive, intended primarily for small, nonedible varmints. My place in southern Kansas is overrun with armadillos. They’re kinda cute, and out in the woods I leave them alone, but they dig and root constantly, so the truce ends when they come into the yard. I’ve shot several with the polymer-tipped 55-grain Varmageddon load. Armadillos are not large animals, but the bullets do not exit. Internal damage must be horrific, perfect for varmints, but this is not a load I would use for deer. So, if I buy into the Varmageddon scope along with the rifle, am I limited to the Varmageddon load?
Not really. While Varmageddon ammo performs accordingly, it isn’t magic. It’s a 55-grain bullet at a normal 3,100 fps. The turret adjustments are calibrated to that bullet at that velocity, but any 55-grain bullet with a similar Ballistic Coefficient at similar velocity will be close. For long-yardage work, you’ll have to spend some range time to figure out how close. On coyote-size targets it probably won’t matter, but on prairie dogs it might. This is not insurmountable. The Varmageddon rifle has a 5.56 chamber, and the barrel has a 1:8 twist. It will handle all .223/5.56mm loads, and it will stabilize heavier bullets. The cartridge is actually fairly forgiving, and so is the rifle.
At 100 yards, point of impact didn’t shift with Black Hills and Hornady 55-grain ammo, but just for fun my friends and I tried some of the (even newer) Nosler Match Grade .223 in 60-grain and 69-grain persuasion. Group size remained as tight as we could hold, but, more interesting, the 60-grain load maintained the exact same 100-yard zero as the 55-grain load, despite a 10 percent increase in bullet weight and resultant drop in velocity. The 69-grain load also grouped well, but the near 30 percent increase in bullet weight pulled the point of impact down about three-quarters of an inch. I’m not suggesting that you should try dialing in on 400-yard prairie dogs unless you’ve verified your load against the scope settings, but if you live in an area where the .223 is legal for deer and you want to use a heavy-bullet load, the shooting I did suggests you don’t have much to worry much.
My first thought was, Here is just another AR. But that was before I shot it. It starts with a stiff, 18-inch barrel, bead-blasted matte gray with a threaded muzzle and thread protector. The handguard is round and relatively small in profile, offering a comfortable grip in a variety of shooting positions. The top of the handguard carries a full rail, and there’s a 3¾-inch rail on the right side. Otherwise the handguard is unadorned except for a conventional sling swivel stud on the bottom (for sling, bipod or both), and there’s a side-mounted fixture for a sling swivel as well. The handguard is free-floated and inletted on sides and bottom for the KeyMod system of accessory mounting.
Moving rearward, the upper receiver has an anti-rotation interface with the handguard, offering a good, solid feel while shooting with the supporting hand on the handguard.
Operation is standard direct-gas impingement, and both upper and lower receivers are mil-spec with brass deflection knob and bolt-assist lever. The upper receiver has an integral Picatinny rail, and the supplied battle sights fold down so as not to interfere with scope mounting. The safety is ambidextrous and has about a 60-degree rotation vice the customary 90 degrees, a “little” feature I found very handy in the field, especially with gloves.
I’m finding that a good trigger is a distinguishing feature between a good AR and a great one, and this one is very much not mil spec. It’s straight-configured, crisp and clean. It is a two-stage, and that’s perfectly sound in a hunting rifle. I was doing my varmint hunting in late December, so I was wearing gloves. The takeup of the first stage allowed a good feel, and then broke at about 2½ pounds in keeping with its varmint pedigree. The bottom of the triggerguard, incidentally, is hinged (but I wasn’t using gloves that heavy).
The polymer pistol grip and buttstock (as well as the supplied magazines) are from Magpul. The pistol grip is fairly generous with a trap compartment in the base. While I found no hidden rebate coupons inside, it’s a great place to stow a hunting license, folding knife or whatever. The butt is nontelescoping per se, but is adjustable for length of pull and height of comb, with a good flat bottom for shooting off a sandbag. I’m pretty much Joe Average, so for a good fit I needed to bring the buttplate out for a 14-inch LOP, and I needed to raise the comb a quarter-inch for an ideal cheekweld with the scope. That done, the rifle feels great and handles like a dream. It’s not feathery, but weight with scope and loaded 20-round magazine runs about 10½ pounds, well within sensible limits for varmint hunting.
Every specialized or high-end AR has nuances that one could ramble on and on about, but the real proof is on the range. If the rifle doesn’t shoot, the whole project is meaningless. Right out of the box, however, the Varmageddon proved to be one of the most accurate ARs I’ve ever put on paper. There are more expensive models out there, and I’ve seen some with heavier match-grade barrels that shot a bit better, but not many and not often. I’ve lost count of how many rounds I and my friends and neighbors have run through this rifle (several hundred at least), and there have been no jams or stoppages.
Provided I did my part, this rifle consistently printed ragged one-hole groups at 100 yards. I tend to think it’s pretty much a half-MOA rifle, and this applies to everything I fed it—the list including Black Hills, Hornady, Nosler Match Grade and, of course, its signature Varmageddon load. Accuracy was consistently exceptional with the Varmageddon stuff.
Ready for Coyotes
I have a food plot that allows a 300-yard shot, so I’ve been working that area with a call in hopes I could put the rifle, scope and load through its paces. Prairie dog time is months away, and so far all I’ve been able to do is remove a few unwanted pests.
But I know the Varmageddon package will do its job when Mr. Coyote comes to call (whether I will remains to be seen). The rifle balances extremely well and is a pleasure to carry in the field. I’ve got a pack of several coyotes hunting together and terrorizing my deer, so I’d been hoping to close with a great coyote story. But so far they’re running scared, so we’ll save that for another time.