Nosler’s new flagship hunting rifle has it all – accuracy, quality components, good balance, and an action that operates flawlessly
If you’re looking for a cheap hunting rifle, don’t bother looking at Nosler’s new flagship Model 21 bolt-action rifle. This gun is not inexpensive, but if you’re looking for a high-quality factory rifle that comes close to being a custom-built gun, using some of the best components available, the Model 21 may fit the bill.
With an MSRP of $2,795, the Model 21 competes with some of the best rifles offered by Browning, Weatherby, Bergara, Seekins Precision, and others. It costs a bit more than some and a little less than others in its price category, but quality can’t be measured by price alone. Any rifle is only as good as the sum of its parts, and in the case of the Model 21, the sum of the parts can only be described as impressive. Here’s a closer look at what makes this rifle worthy of its price tag.
For Model 21, Nosler set out to create a new action by collaborating with the Mack Brothers of South Dakota, who are well-known among serious shooters for their popular EVO action. The Model 21 combines some of the best features of the EVO action with some custom touches designed by Nosler. Notably, the action is cut using wire EDM technology, a type of CNC machining that can produce geometric shapes that are nearly impossible to achieve with other CNC methods. This process uses a rapidly charged metal wire which melts away material without contacting the metal. It is a very precise machining technology.
The 416 stainless steel push-feed action has a sleek, streamlined appearance and is essentially blueprinted out of the box. Lockup with the bolt’s large dual locking lugs is precise, and the bolt cycles effortlessly with silky smoothness. Machined from 4340 chrome moly steel, the one-piece bolt is spiral fluted to reduce weight and help keep dirt and debris from interfering with cycling. Nitride-coated for protection, the bolt is designed for toolless disassembly and cleaning and is equipped with an M16-type extractor and a plunger ejector. The bolt comes with a bell-shaped bolt handle, but it’s threaded so you can swap it out if you prefer a different bolt handle. The top of the action is drilled and tapped to accept Remington 700-pattern scope bases.
To provide added barrel support, increase thread shank length and eliminate any misalignment issues, the front of the cylindrical action is mated to a self-indexing 17-4 stainless steel recoil lug.
The rifle is chambered for a dozen cartridges ranging from 22 Nosler to 375 H&H Mag. There are some interesting stops in between, including all the proprietary Nosler cartridges as well as the ubiquitous 6.5 Creedmoor, 308 Win., 300 Win. Mag, and a personal favorite of mine, the 280 Ackley Improved. Regardless of chambering, all rifles are equipped with stress-relieved, hand-lapped, match-grade Shilen barrels. Depending on the chambering, barrel length is either 22 inches or 24 inches. Barrels for all but one chambering have a No. 3 contour classified as “sporter,” but this is not a pencil-thin barrel. Rifles chambered in 375 H&H Mag. have a No. 5 contour barrel. All barrels are threaded (1/2×28 or 5/8×24 depending on chambering) to accept muzzle brakes or suppressors.
Both the barrel and action are protected with a nicely executed Tactical Grey Cerakote finish, but there’s nothing tactical about this rifle. It is designed purely for hunting, so it uses a box magazine with a hinged floorplate rather than a detachable magazine. Capacity is either 3 or 4 rounds, depending on chambering.
The rifle’s all-business hunting emphasis is further enhanced with the action pillar-bedded into a McMillan Hunters Edge Sporter stock. Made of 100 percent carbon fiber, this stock is executed in a relatively slender and straight classic style. The bottom of the stock is flat, with rounded edges, so it will sit solidly on rests. It has an industrial-grade, non-slip polyurethane pebble finish in an attractive black with a white-and-grey-speckled granite paint scheme. Although it’s classified as an ultralight hunting stock, it’s built to stand up to the recoil from magnum cartridges. The stock has a nicely fitted one-inch Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad. As you would expect of a rifle in this price category, the barrel is truly free-floated and is centered in the stock’s barrel channel. There are Cerakote-protected sling swivel studs fore and aft.
I really like the lines of this stock. It handles quickly and instinctively, and with a scope attached, it balances nicely between the hands with just a slight weight-forward feel. Weight and overall length vary depending upon chambering, but the rifle sent to me for testing, chambered in 308 Win., weighs 6.8 pounds. It is not an ultralight rifle, but neither is it heavy. I’d classify it as light enough for most hunting purposes. Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate rifles in this weight class because ultralight rifles can be more challenging for many people to shoot accurately, especially when the featherweights are chambered in hard-kicking cartridges or you’re shooting in high wind.
The Model 21 comes with an excellent trigger, although I didn’t think so when I first dry-fired it. As it arrived from the factory, the TriggerTech Field trigger broke at a rather hefty pull weight of 4 pounds, 2 ounces. I normally test triggers at their factory setting, but I could not abide that heavy trigger pull. Happily, this trigger is externally adjustable to a pull weight of between 2.5 pounds to 5 pounds. Using a 5/64 Allen wrench, I turned the external set screw, located just forward of the trigger, counterclockwise until the trigger broke at a pull weight of 3 pounds even. That’s just about perfect for a hunting trigger, and it felt lighter than that because it broke so cleanly and crisply, with zero take-up and zero creep.
The TriggerTech design uses unique “frictionless release” technology, meaning it does not operate with sliding friction as other triggers do. This trigger would more accurately be described as using rolling friction because it uses a patented, free-floating roller that is captured between the sear and the trigger. The result is a very crisp-breaking trigger that the inventors say will wear at a much slower rate than other triggers. No hunter is likely to shoot a rifle enough to find out, but it’s nice to know the trigger should suffer no degradation in performance over time.
The rifle employs a two-position, rocker-style safety, mounted within easy reach of the thumb, that does not lock the bolt down when engaged. The surfaces of both the trigger and the safety lever are grooved for sure control in wet conditions, and there’s a prominent cocking indicator at the rear of the bolt shroud.
Since the Model 21 is designed purely for hunting, I mounted one of my favorite hunting scopes, a Trijicon AccuPoint 2.5-12.5X42mm, on the rifle for range testing using Talley rings and two short Picatinny rail sections sent with the rifle. Nosler recommends a specific barrel break-in procedure to achieve maximum accuracy, but I didn’t have the luxury of time to do that with this rifle. Results were quite impressive considering I tested the gun with four different factory hunting loads, with no match loads in the mix.
Before we get to the results, here’s a quick rundown on velocities for the four tested loads, which were predictably a little slower than the ammo makers’ stated velocities out of the test rifle’s 22-inch barrel. Federal’s Non-Typical 150 gr. load stepped out at 2,707 fps over my CED M2 chronograph, while Federal’s Terminal Ascent 175-grain load, with the heaviest bullet tested, was clocked at 2,560 fps. Hornady’s Superformance 165-grain SST load proved to be the hottest load at 2,721 fps, while Winchester’s 150-grain Deer Season XP load launched at 2,718 fps.
In accuracy testing, the rifle started out shooting some very nice three-shot groups, but groups opened up midway through the process. Tightening the action screws a bit put things back on track. I expected this rifle to shoot well, but I was a little stunned to find that it shot as well as it did with four different hunting loads using bullets ranging from 150 grains to 175 grains.
Federal’s Terminal Ascent load turned in the best performance with the best group measuring just 0.18-inch and 0.82-inch average groups. Federal’s Non-Typical load was no slouch, either, producing 0.82-inch average groups and a 0.66-inch best group. Hornady’s Superformance load and Winchester’s Deer Season XP load both turned in average groups measuring an inch, with slightly better best groups.
Nosler got just about everything right with this rifle. I did find myself wishing that the gun had a little shorter bolt throw, but that’s just nitpicking on my part – clearance from the bolt handle to the scope was tighter than I like, but that didn’t interfere with operation at all. The rifle ran like a thoroughbred in every regard. I classify rifles of this quality as “aspirational” rifles, meaning they are guns people aspire to own and will hand down from generation to generation. The Model 21 is entirely worthy of that designation.
Nosler Model 21 Rifle
Caliber: 308 Win., 1:10 twist
Action Type: M21 bolt action
Trigger: Adjustable TriggerTech Field
Barrel: Shilen match-grade stainless
Finish: Tactical Grey Cerakote
Stock: McMillan Hunters Edge carbon fiber
Magazine/capacity: internal box, 4+1
Sights: None, drilled and tapped
Barrel Length: 22 inches. threaded
Overall Length: 41.65 inches
Weight: 6.8 pounds