Nosler M48 Liberty Rifle
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
Anyone who has read our previous review of the walnut stocked Nosler M48 Heritage Rifle knows it is an excellent rifle. Nosler, an ISO 9001:2008 certified company, is building top quality rifles based on their proprietary M48 bolt action. Nosler rifles are made in a separate building, next door to their headquarters and bullet making facility in Bend, Oregon USA. (The Nosler ammunition factory is one town over, in Redmond, Oregon.)
These are not mass produced rifles and not all calibers and configurations are necessarily available "off the shelf." When you go to the Nosler website (www.nosler.com) and click on the M48 model in which you are interested the page shows what caliber and configurations are immediately available and the anticipated delivery dates of other calibers/configurations.
All Nosler M48 rifles, whether classed as "production" or "custom," are hand assembled at the Nosler plant in Bend, Oregon USA. Premium components are carefully assembled to the highest standards. Every rifle is proof tested and "NP" is marked on the barrel and receiver.
They are designed and built to be simple, rugged, weather resistant and MOA accurate with available Nosler ammunition. All Nosler rifles must pass a stringent fit and function quality control inspection before they are shipped.
The composite stocked M48 Liberty model that is the subject of this review is available in 20 different calibers, ranging from .22 Nosler to .33 Nosler and hitting all of the Nosler calibers and most of the other popular calibers in-between. These M48 Liberty rifles are built on two action lengths, short (.308 length) and long (.30-06 length).
Our friends at Nosler suggested that we review a rifle in their new .22 Nosler caliber. We initially declined, on the basis that the .22 Nosler was designed primarily for AR-15 type actions and these are not our cup of tea. However, when Pat Mundy (Nosler's Senior Marketing Communications Specialist) told us the .22 Nosler was soon to be available in the Model 48 bolt action, our ears perked-up.
We had hoped the new .22 Nosler, a small .223 Rem. length cartridge, would be offered in a new extra short (.223 length) action, but it was not to be. Our test rifle uses a normal, .308 length, M48 short action with the addition of a spacer behind the sheet steel magazine box to adapt it to the shorter .22 Nosler cartridge.
This is the way most "short" bolt action rifles are adapted to even shorter cartridges, such as the .204 Ruger and .223 Remington. Of course, it also means the same M48 action (unlike AR-15 actions) can easily accommodate the .22-250 and .220 Swift for varmint hunters interested in the highest performance .22s.
All M48 actions are CNC machined from a solid steel billet, blue printed and trued after heat treatment. The receiver has a flat bottom and an integral recoil lug, as all bolt actions should, but few do today. The open action top makes loading a single cartridge, or clearing a jammed cartridge, easy.
This is a push feed design that uses a bolt with two large, Mauser type, front locking lugs. Bolt rotation is 90 degrees and cocks on opening. Nosler uses a guide rail slot in the right hand locking lug that, along with tight tolerances, minimizes bolt wobble. A substantial extractor of the AR-15 type at the front of the bolt gives a good bite on the case rim to yank fired cases from the chamber and a plunger ejector in the fully recessed bolt face reliably kicks them clear of the action.
The bolt body is cast as one-piece (including the handle and knob), then CNC machined and heat treated. It incorporates shallow longitudinal fluting to reduce friction and binding during operation. A recessed bolt face fits into a counter-bored barrel. The bell-shaped bolt knob has a ring of checkering around its circumference.
Should gas escape from a ruptured cartridge case, there is one round and two oval gas vents in the bottom of the bolt to direct it into the magazine well and away from the shooter. The steel bolt shroud is small, tidy and prevents escaping gas from flowing around the one-piece firing pin into the shooter's face. The firing pin shroud also serves as a coking indicator.
The two-position, short throw, rocker safety at the right rear of the receiver is low, positive and easy to operate. It does not lock the bolt to prevent inadvertent opening, but allows removing a chambered cartridge with the safety on.
The bolt release, located in the left rear of the receiver, is a nearly flush mounted push button that is both unobtrusive and easy to use. To remove the bolt from the receiver, retract the bolt and depress the bolt stop release button, then slide the bolt from the receiver.
Once removed, the bolt can be disassembled by hand without using any tools. Just twist the bolt shroud 90 degrees clockwise until it releases from the bolt body. The firing pin and spring assembly are coated with MicroSlick dry film lubricant at the factory. To reassemble, push the firing pin and bolt shroud assembly into the bolt body and turn the bolt shroud counter clockwise until it snaps into place.
The lightweight, aluminum, one-piece trigger guard/bottom metal incorporates a hinged magazine floor plate to allow dumping the contents of the magazine. Incidentally, the magazine follower is solid steel. The Model 70 type floor plate release is mounted externally in the front base of the trigger guard. The trigger guard itself is gracefully rounded and sculptured to be wide (for maximum protection) on the bottom and narrower at the front and back, an elegant design.
The trigger pull, out of the box, measured 3.5 pounds per our RCBS pull gauge. It was clean with zero take-up and little over travel. However, 3.5 pounds is too heavy for a varmint rifle. We prefer about a 2.5 pound pull on a varmint rifle.
Although the supplied Nosler Rifle Handbook (owner's manual) warns against it, being notorious scofflaws we elected to adjust the trigger for a lighter pull. This is easy to do. Simply remove the bolt and flip open the magazine floor plate. Then remove the two T27 Torx screws holding the barreled action in the stock, so the stock can be removed.
Once the barreled action is out of the stock, the trigger adjustment screws at the front and rear of the trigger assembly are easy to spot, as they are sealed with red goo. The front one is used to adjust the weight of pull. Back off the tiny lock nut and use an appropriately small hex wrench to turn the adjustment screw. Turn the screw out to reduce the pull weight.
Our first adjustment, probably about a full turn, resulted in a 2.8 pound pull, which we decided was close enough. We made sure both the trigger and the safety still worked properly and the sear would still hold if the rifle was dropped.
Our rifle's magazine will hold, and feed properly, four .22 Nosler cartridges. Due to the large, open top receiver, it is easy to load a single cartridge directly into the chamber when the magazine is empty. This is one of the advantages of push feed actions and very handy at the rifle range.
The .22 Nosler M48 Liberty is supplied with a magnum contour, button rifled, hand-lapped, stainless steel barrel. The muzzle of our test rifle terminates in a rounded field (or hunting) crown. Nosler specifies their own barrel contours.
A matte black Cerakote finish is applied to all external metal parts, including the barrel, receiver, bolt and bottom metal/trigger guard assembly. This is not as attractive as a polished, high-luster blued finish, but it is very functional. Cerakote is the hardest, most durable and water resistant gun metal finish available.
We think the action would look nicer if the bolt body were left in the white for visual contrast and given a satin polish. The bolt could then be clear Cerakote protected, making it just as durable as the rest of the barreled action.
Of course, any rifle with a composite stock is unlikely to be beautiful. (If there is a beautiful one out there, we have never seen it.) However, with its gray/black spiderwebbed stock, the M48 Liberty looks businesslike and much better than cheap, matte blued rifles with black, injection molded stocks.
The M48 Liberty is supplied with a modern classic shape stock with a straight comb and a cheek piece. Thankfully, there are no unnecessary lines or weird angles in the design of this stock.
The pistol grip has a comfortable, medium curve. It is plenty strong without being overly bulky. There is no pistol grip cap, which is an oversight that should be corrected on a rifle in this price class by fitting a steel, black cerakote finished, grip cap.
The relatively slender fore end terminates smoothly and without fuss in a rounded tip. The fore end shape is good and there is only a small, even gap around the free floated barrel.
To provide a secure grip there is black spiderwebbing all over the gray stock, reminiscent of Weatherby Mark V rifles with composite stocks. The butt terminates in an efficient, black, Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad. Detachable, steel, sling swivel studs are provided.
The top of the M48 receiver rings are contoured to accept all two-piece scope bases for Remington Model 700, or Weatherby Mark V, rifles. Since the Remington 700 is the most common bolt action hunting rifle in the world, this makes scope bases easy to find.
We used steel Leupold STD mount bases for a Weatherby Mark V action and low STD rings to mount a Bushnell Banner 3.5-10x36mm AO riflescope on our M48 Liberty rifle for this review. This combination puts the scope as low as practically possible. A scope with a 40mm objective might clear the barrel in low rings, depending on its design and overall length, but its scope caps probably wouldn't. Any riflescope with a 42mm objective will likely require medium height STD rings.
The .22 Nosler Cartridge
Introduced for 2017, the .22 Nosler is the new kid on the block at this writing, both for AR type rifles and for varmint rifles. Designed to outperform the .223, it was created to be the most powerful and highest velocity .22 caliber cartridge that would reliably function in an AR-15.
The cartridge overall length is the same as the .223 Remington (2.260 inches), as is the rim size, but the .22 Nosler is based on a fatter, rebated rim case that holds about 25% more powder. As factory loaded, this gives the .22 Nosler a 260 fps advantage in muzzle velocity (MV) with a 55 grain bullet. (3500 fps for the .22 Nosler, compared to 3240 fps for the .223 Rem. from a 24 inch test barrel.) The advantage in muzzle energy (ME) is about 226 ft. lbs.
At least initially, Nosler is the only source for .22 Nosler factory loads. The loads listed in the 2017 Nosler catalog include a 55 grain Ballistic Tip varmint bullet at a MV of 3500 fps and ME of 1507.6 ft. lbs. and a 77 grain Custom Competition (match) bullet at a MV of 3100 fps and ME of 1653.2 ft. lbs. These performance figures are for 24 inch barrels.
Note in that connection the fast 1-8 inch twist of our M48 test rifle, which is intended to accommodate the very heavy for caliber 77 grain bullet. However, since the M48 Liberty is a varmint rifle, not a match rifle, we chose to do all of our range testing with the Nosler 55 grain BT load. Our feeling is, for use in the field, if you need a 77 grain bullet, you need a .243 caliber rifle to shoot it.
Since the .22 Nosler boasts a higher MV than the .223, it shoots flatter. With a 200 yard zero the trajectory of the 55 grain BT load looks like this:
-1.5" at muzzle, +1" at 100 yards, 0 at 200 yards, -5.6" at 300 yards, -17.2" at 400 yards.
For comparison, that is 1.5 inches less drop at 300 yards than the equivalent Remington .223 Accu-Tip factory load and 4.5 inches less drop at 400 yards.
As a varmint cartridge, the .22 Nosler (from a 24 inch test barrel) is not far behind the .22-250 Remington, which is loaded by Nosler with a 55 grain BT bullet at a MV of 3550 fps and ME of 1538 ft. lbs. This .22-250 load (with a 200 yard zero) has only 0.1 inch less drop than the .22 Nosler at 300 yards.
The .22 Nosler is a SAAMI standardized cartridge, so any manufacturer who wishes to can build rifles and any ammunition manufacturer can load .22 Nosler cartridges. However, as this is written, Nosler is the only source of factory loaded .22 Nosler ammo and the M48 is the only bolt action rifle offered in the caliber.
Shooting the M48 Liberty
As usual, we did our shooting at the Izaak Walton gun range south of Eugene, Oregon. This outdoor membership range offers covered bench rests and target stands at 25, 50, 100 and 200 yards. Handling the shooting chores were Guns and Shooting Online's Chuck Hawks, Rocky Hays and Jim Fleck. The May weather was good for shooting, with a high overcast and light, variable winds. The high temperature was 71 degrees F.
Our friends at Nosler sent us five boxes (100 rounds) of .22 Nosler 55 grain BT factory loads to play with, so we had plenty of ammunition to shoot for record. As usual, we shot three shot groups at 100 yards from a Lead Sled DFT (no lead added) at Champion Redfield Precision Sight-In Targets.
Having previously reviewed a M48 Heritage rifle, we expected the M48 in .22 Nosler to be an exceptionally accurate rifle and we were not disappointed. Nosler guarantees one MOA performance, which this rifle easily exceeded. This time out Chuck shot the smallest group, but all shooters routinely shot sub-MOA groups. The mean average size of the groups fired for record by all three shooters averaged a hair under 3/4 inch.
The M48's excellent trigger, comfortable stock and 9.3 pound weight made accurate shooting easy. The smooth, reliable bolt action fed cartridges perfectly, whether from the magazine or by loading a single cartridge directly into the chamber. Our time at the range with the M48 was a real pleasure. Naturally, there were no malfunctions of any kind.
Nobody on the Guns and Shooting Online staff likes synthetic stocks of any kind, so the stock, although well shaped, drew the usual criticisms of being inappropriate on a rifle of this quality and price. We all agreed that, if a weather resistant stock is desired, a laminated hardwood stock would be much more appropriate and attractive on the premium Model 48 rifle. Strangely, there is no laminated stock version among the five "production" M48 models.
The Nosler Model 48 Liberty is a premium, semi-custom rifle. It is one of the best "production" rifles on the market today, worth every penny of its MSRP.
Note: This is a somewhat abridged version of the full length review (complete with detailed shooting results and our Rifle Review Summary with a final grade), which is available on the Member Side Product Reviews page.
Copyright 2017 by chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.