The .26 Nosler - First Look

By Chuck Hawks

.26 Nosler
Illustration courtesy of Nosler.

Nosler, located in Bend, Oregon USA, officially announced at the 2014 SHOT Show a new 6.5mm cartridge, the .26 Nosler. This is the first SAAMI standardized cartridge to bear the Nosler name. The .26 Nosler is based on a shortened (to .30-06 length) .404 Jeffery case blown-out and necked down with a sharp shoulder and a short neck. The result is a cartridge the same length as the .264 Win. Magnum with even more powder capacity than that over-bore number. Nosler, of course, intends to produce rifles for the new round using their M48 action. Here is what Nosler advertising says about the .26:

"The goal of the new .26 Nosler cartridge was to introduce something to the shooting sports industry that took full advantage of new technology available to shooters including the advance of optics, reticle systems and of course high Ballistic Coefficient (B.C.) bullets such as the AccuBond Long Range line. The old boundaries are about to be pushed to new limits.

The .26 Nosler cartridge was designed to take advantage of the inherently accurate and high B.C. 6.5mm (.264) caliber bullets, and is capable of shooting the Nosler 129 grain, AccuBond Long Range bullet at a blazing 3400 fps out of the muzzle.  Zeroed at 350 yards, the .26 Nosler has a Point Blank Range of 0-415 yards. Loaded with the 129 grain ABLR, the .26 Nosler retains as much velocity at 400 yards as the 260 Remington produces at the muzzle.

The .26 Nosler case is non-belted, thus headspaced off of the shoulder to further enhance accuracy. The '.26' also utilizes a standard (30-06) length action, meaning shorter bolt-throw and lighter weight than magnum length actions."

The advertised muzzle velocity (MV) with a 129 grain AccuBond bullet is 3400 fps and 3300 fps with a 140 grain AccuBond bullet. Here are the actual ballistics for a 140 grain Nosler AccuBond bullet (BC .509), since a 129 grain bullet makes little sense in such a huge case. The following trajectory is computed for a scope mounted 1.5" over the line of bore and a 350 yard zero, since Nosler specifies a 350 yard zero in their literature and claims a 415 yard maximum point blank range (MPBR).

Velocity: 3300 fps MV, 3094 fps at 100 yards, 2902 fps at 200 yards, 2718 fps at 300 yards, 2542 fps at 400 yards, 2374 fps at 500 yards

Energy: 3385 ft. lbs. ME, 2976 ft. lbs. at 100 yards, 2618 ft. lbs. at 200 yards, 2297 ft. lbs. at 300 yards, 2009 ft. lbs. at 400 yards, 1752 ft. lbs. at 500 yards

Trajectory: -1.5" at muzzle, +3.81" at 100 yards, +5.47" at 200 yards, +2.98" at 300 yards, +/- 0" at 350 yards, -4.24" at 400 yards, -16.87" at 500 yards

Incidentally, that bullet, sleek as it is, would drift 14-1/2" laterally in only a 10 MPH crosswind at 500 yards. That is enough to turn a broadside lung shot at a stationary Class 2 game animal into a gut shot. The result would almost certainly be a wounded and lost trophy that dies alone and in great agony. Not a happy thought for any conscientious hunter. Note also that the trajectory allows about a 5-1/2" bullet rise at 200 yards, much more than the maximum 3" bullet deviation from the line of sight normally considered acceptable for hunting Class 2 animals. The trajectory of that load based on a standard +/- 3" bullet rise/fall results in a more realistic MPBR of 325 yards, which is 17 yards more than the .264 Win. Mag. with a 140 grain bullet.

Frankly, I am skeptical about a 6.5mm cartridge based on a modified elephant cartridge case (the .404 Jeffery). Just how much powder makes sense behind a lightweight bullet (129-140 grains)? I mean, the .26 Nosler takes the definition of "over-bore" to new heights. The .264 Win. Mag. got a reputation as a barrel burner at about 200 fps lower velocity and while burning less powder.The .264 is also known for its sharp muzzle blast and recoil. This does not bode well for the even more extreme .26 Nosler's barrel life, muzzle blast and recoil.

The much smaller 6.5-284 has proven to kick as hard as a long range match cartridge can be allowed to. This is why the 6.5-284 dominates F-Class 600 and 1000 yard match events around the world, despite the availability of higher velocity and flatter shooting cartridges. More recoil than that and even the very best shooter's accuracy is degraded.

The .26 Nosler has a short neck and isn't even being offered with 156-160 grain bullets, which would seem to be the natural choice for such large case capacity. (At least if the case had a longer neck to grip them properly.) Those heavy bullets are what has allowed the modest 6.5x54 M-S and 6.5x55 SE to take all of the world's large game, from pachyderms and polar bears on down. 6.5mm cartridges don't kill big animals with velocity; they kill with deep penetration, due to heavy bullets (very high SD) at moderate velocity that prevents excessive expansion, bending, riveting, etc.

Being reasonably experienced with and a long time proponent of 6.5mm cartridges, it all makes me wonder about the logic of the .26 Nosler. The .264 Magnum has never set the world on fire, despite being extensively promoted when it was introduced by Winchester, the most famous name in ammunition and rifles. The .264 was touted as a 400 yard big game hunting cartridge and the .26 Nosler is being touted as a 415 yard cartridge. Based on our more conservative trajectory figures, the .26 Nosler actually has about a 17 yard advantage in MPBR over the .264 Win. Mag. I wonder if that will be enough difference to overcome its inherent disadvantages.

Note: An expanded article about the .26 Nosler can be found on the Rifle Cartridges page.

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Copyright 2014, 2016 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.