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Nosler M48 liberty: the match hunting rifle.

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I'M FORTUNATE ENOUGH to get my mitts on quite a few rifles, and every once in a while, one impresses the hell out of me. Nosler's M48 Liberty is one of the firearms I've admired in passing at various trade shows, but I didn't have a chance to take a peek under the hood until recently. Wow. If I knew then what I know now, I'd have owned one a long time ago.

The most impressive feature of the M48 is the performance-to-cost ratio. Never have I seen a rifle offer so much while asking for so little. "little" is a relative term here, because the rifle retails for $1,795. Before the hate mail starts rolling in, let me preemptively state: I have no trust fund, gun writer pay isn't what you may think, and I do live in the real world (with a wife and kids, no less). I know that's not an insignificant amount of money. However, the amount of money Nosier requires is much less than what it should be once you consider exactly what you're getting.

Against the Grain. The rifle world is in the midst of a race to the bottom. There's a huge contest going on between manufacturers over who can produce a good rifle for less than $400. These rifles have injection-molded polymer stocks and mass-produced barrels. They do little to excite passion, but remain functional companions for a rifleman. No one stays up late at night to look at these rifles.

These are good rifles but not great rifles. If a man's shooting is limited to local hunts not far from the house, shots that aren't longer than a couple hundred yards, and the rifle won't see more than a box or two of ammunition in a year, a good rifle might be what the doctor ordered.

For more discerning shooters or for those that require more from their equipment, the M48 Liberty is at the top of the list. If I was going on a hunt that required me to save my pennies, get on an airplane, and then huff and puff through the woods to bag my critter, I wouldn't bet it all on a $400 rifle. I would absolutely bet it all on a Nosier M48.

Nosler decided they didn't want to try to build a good (inexpensive) rifle, they wanted to build a high-performance rifle for as low a price as possible. The first step they took was to design and build their own action.

Nosler makes these actions in-house and holds as tight a tolerance as any custom action-maker. The M48 is "blueprinted" prior to assembly, meaning the receiver face and tenon threads receive the appropriate attention. The bolt is also hand-lapped to the receiver to ensure that the lugs make complete contact with the lug abutments.

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The M48 is a two-lug push-feed action with a SAKO-style extractor. This is the preferred extractor type for any push-feed action and, while commonly found on custom actions and rifles, it is much less common for production rifles.

While these action features are impressive, I didn't begin to weep tears of joy until Mike Lake (who had heavy input on the rifle's design) did a few magic tricks that I hadn't seen before. The first was separating the firing pin assembly from the bolt body by simply holding the bolt body in one hand and twisting the bolt shroud (back of the bolt) with the other. This toolless removal of the firing pin allows the shooter to clear debris from the bolt body that often occurs when there's a pierced primer. Debris lodged in the bolt body binds the firing pin, resulting in light strikes or firing pins frozen in place.

Lake's next move was to pull the action screws, separate the barreled action from the stock and explain what Nosier did with the internal box magazine and why. Internal box magazines determine how reliably a rifle will feed. That thin piece of sheetmetal has absolute control over the rounds in a rifle and determines where they go and when.

The internal box magazine in the M48 is what "right" looks like. It's a very thick piece of stainless-steel sheetmetal that will definitely retain its shape. The internal box sits inside a recess in the action bottom that controls how wide the box is up top and another recess in the floorplate controls width at the bottom. Width is where most internal boxes go wrong. If the box is too wide, rounds will bind and the bolt will ride over the case head instead of feeding. If the box is too narrow, rounds will pop out prematurely and often fall out of the action.

Another new trick I haven't seen elsewhere is the way the adjustable match trigger attaches to the action. Most of the time there are a couple of pins that hold the trigger in place. Those pins need to be driven out with a hammer and punch in order to repair or replace a faulty trigger. The M48 action was designed so that a single large screw attaches the trigger assembly to the action. Should a problem arise, remove the screw, put the new trigger in place and tighten everything down. The whole trigger swap process requires an Allen wrench and takes about two minutes when done slowly.

Field trigger swaps aren't something that gets talked about much on rifles because most rifles don't allow it. That's a shame, because triggers are the first rifle component to fail when shooting conditions deteriorate. Nosier didn't want trigger failures that occurred far from home to end the hunt of a lifetime, so they made it easy for the shooter to fix it in the field. The Nosier rifles I tested and hunted with had Rifle Basix triggers, so it's easy to pick up an extra to keep handy (especially when heading far from home).

Continued Excellence The barrel on the rifle I tested was from Pac-Nor, a custom barrel maker that specializes in match barrels. Pac-Nor barrels have buttoned rifling and a reputation for excellent accuracy. These barrels most often find a home on custom-built hunting and competition rifles that cost three times as much as the M48. Nosier is the only company I'm aware of producing factory bolt-action rifles anywhere near this price bracket using match barrels from a custom barrel maker.

The stock on the M48 test rifle was from Bell and Carlson. It is a custom medalist stock done just for the M48 rifle. The comb has a reverse drop, which means the comb raises slightly, moving from the grip to the butt. This puts the rifle directly in front of the shoulder to help manage recoil, instead of above the shoulder where recoil can push the muzzle up and away from the shooter's line of sight. A fringe benefit of the reverse drop is that the comb pulls away from the shooter's face when the rifle recoils instead of driving into it.

The fiberglass stock has a full-length aluminum bedding block that runs from the forend's tip to the grip. Each M48 rifle is also glass-bedded at the recoil lug and the action's tang. The bedding work is beautifully done and very effective.

A trick to grade any bedding job is to remove the rear action screw and then stand the rifle on its butt. With the left hand on the stock's forend and the fingertips touching the barrel, slowly loosen the front action screw. If there's any barrel movement during the removal of the front action screw, the bedding job does not fully support and secure the action in the stock. I checked a couple of Nosier rifles and neither experienced any barrel movement while removing the front action screw.

The action's rounded tang and the bedding job around it were also impressive. Nosier designed the tang to work as a second recoil lug, and it does this job well thanks to the team effort from the action, stock and bedding job. This is an easy area to overlook, but a rifle is much more likely to remain accurate under adverse conditions when it's done correctly.

Most rifles are sensitive to torque values placed on the rear action screw. This is an especially bad problem for rifles wearing injection-molded polymer stocks. If you ever feel like experimenting on your rifle, take a torque wrench to the range, put 15 inch-pounds on the rear action screw, and shoot a group. Add 10 inch-pounds at a time between groups and watch what happens. The variations in group size are often surprising, and it's all because of this one small variable. This happens because there's not a lot of meat on a cheap stock to offer the action tang any stability If your rifle has a cheap stock, please, for the children, keep an eye on that rear action screw.

This is not the case with the Nosier rifle. The action tang is bedded and sits inside a recessed block of aluminum. The M48 action tang has more support than an A-list actress in rehab. Variations in torque value have little effect on group size, so in a pinch, just grab a Torx wrench and snug things up. The rifle will be just fine.

The M48 action is radiused up top and tapped for Remington 700 two-piece scope bases. A one-piece Remington 700 base will be too short for the Nosier action. If you prefer one-piece bases (I do), Warne makes a steel Picatinny rail that mounts to the receiver.

The M48 is, without a doubt, one of the most well-thought-out rifles I've ever tested. It's obvious that the folks at Nosier sat down, designed their ultimate hunting rifle and then invested an equal amount of skull sweat making it as affordable as possible. Performance and capability took precedence over price point, and we're all better for it.

PHOTOS BY MARK FINGAR
PERFORMANCE
                                           BEST     AVG.
LOAD                 VELOCITY              GROUP    GROUP
                     (FPS)      ES    SD   (IN.)    (IN.)

Nosler Trophy         3,068     38    17    .76      .9
Grade 225-gr. AB

Notes: Accuracy is the average of five, three-shot groups
fired from 100 yards. Velocity results are the average of
five shots measured using a MagnetoSpeed V3 chronograph.

Nosier M48 Liberty

Type:              Bolt action

Cartridge:         .33 Nosier (tested)

Capacity:          3+1 rds.

Barrel:            26 in., l:10-in. twist

Overall Length:    46.25 in.

Weight:            7.65 lbs.

Stock:             Aramid fiber with aluminum
                   bedding block

Grips:             Textured

Length of Pull:    13.5 in.

Finish:            Cerakote

Trigger:           3 lbs., adjustable

Sights:            None

MSRP:              $1,800

Manufacturer:      Nosier, 800-285-3701
                   nosler.com
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Author:Beckstrand, Tom
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Nov 24, 2016
Words:1776
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