May 19, 2022
By Keith Wood
Nosler is best known for being the company that introduced premium controlled-expansion bullets to the hunting world. Over the years, though, Nosler has evolved into far more than just a bullet company. Today, Nosler manufactures bullets, loaded ammunition, and even rifles. The Nosler Model 21 rifle, featuring custom-quality elements in a factory-built format, is the firm’s latest release, and its performance should turn heads.
Nosler isn’t a new player in the rifle scene. It introduced the Model 48 back in 2004. I’ve tested several over the years, and they have all been accurate and dependable. The rifle world, though, has changed since 2004. The popularity of long-range precision shooting has spurred rapid innovation, and rifle makers have increasingly relied on aircraft-grade manufacturing processes to keep up, particularly when it comes to actions. A rifle without a receiver that is true and concentric is like a house with a crooked foundation. To create the receiver that would be the cornerstone of the Model 21, Nosler teamed up with one of the leaders in that industry: Mack Brothers.
Mack Brothers, based in Sturgis, South Dakota, uses the latest and greatest manufacturing techniques to build actions and suppressors and employs 28 automated CNC machines in its 25,000-square- foot facility. For years, custom gunmakers have been forced to true the surfaces and threads of factory actions, essentially spending hours fixing what should have been done right in the first place. Thanks to actions like the Model 21, this is no longer needed. Critical surfaces are cut using Electronic Discharge Machining (EDM) techniques, which results in incredibly tight tolerances. EDM is slow and expensive, but it creates excellent results.
The action itself is machined from stainless-steel billets and follows the basic 700-style format. It is round-bottomed to facilitate simple bedding and uses a removable recoil lug. The self-indexing lug locks onto the scalloped front of the receiver and ensures proper alignment. Both short and long actions are produced. Our test rifle, chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor, was built on a short action.
The bolt is made from 4340 chromoly steel. Using dissimilar metals for the action and bolt helps prevent galling, which is further aided by the use of the rock-hard black nitride treatment on the Model 21’s bolt. The result is an action that is incredibly smooth. Dual opposing locking lugs are used, and the bolt is machined with helical flutes that both look good and provide a channel for debris. The bolt handle is attached using 5/16-24 threads, which makes it compatible with many options already on the market. An M16-style extractor is used along with a plunger-type ejector. In my experience, this is a very reliable combination.
For the barrel, Nosler chose match-grade stainless-steel blanks from Shilen. The No. 3 contour is ideal for a sporting rifle, not too light and not too heavy. Barrel lengths run from 22 to 24 inches—depending on the chambering and twist rates—and are optimized for each offering. The barrels are threaded 1/2-28 or 5/8-24, making them compatible with a long list of muzzle devices. We mounted a SilencerCo Omega suppressor for all of our testing, which cut recoil, sound signature, and muzzle blast. And with the 22-inch barrel, the overall length was still manageable even with the device mounted.
The Model 21’s stock is the highly regarded McMillan Hunter’s Edge, which is constructed completely from carbon fiber. These stocks are lightweight and durable, and I’ve used several on my personal guns. Unlike many of the “tactical” stocks being offered these days, the Edge uses a traditional sporter profile with a straight comb, no cheekpiece, and a slim forend. Length-of-pull is 13.5 inches, and each stock has a speckled finish that provides a bit of grip and should hold up well under field conditions. I’m a fan.
Last but not least, we have traditional bottom metal with a hinged floorplate and an internal box magazine. Capacity is 4+1 for standard cartridges and 3+1 with magnums, including the proprietary 26, 27, 30, and 33 Nosler rounds. The trigger is a TriggerTech Field model, which uses a roller system to eliminate creep. I’ve begun using TriggerTech triggers on nearly all of my rifles these days, because of the clean break and the easy adjustment. An end-user with a hex wrench can adjust this trigger from 2.5 to 5.5 pounds by turning a single screw.
Every rifle is the sum of its parts, and in the case of the Model 21, the parts combine to form an excellent hunting tool. At 6.8 pounds, unloaded and without optics, this gun is light and compact without being excessively so. This weight class is right in the sweet spot where the portable rifle remains shootable under field conditions. If you let me choose all of my own components to build a rifle for 90 percent of my hunting needs, the end result would be a rifle nearly identical to the Model 21.
Many would have you believe that in order to be supremely accurate a rifle must wear a heavy barrel. The Model 21 disproves that theory. My first group was fired with SIG’s Elite Match ammunition. I watched the first shot land on target, my rough zero placing the impact about two inches from my point of aim. I fired again and saw no change in the target. Did I miss? I sent one more round and went to check the target. The three rounds landed in a single hole that measured less than 0.1 inch center-to-center!
That is incredible accuracy for any rifle, but I choose not to hunt with match ammo. How would this rifle shoot with a real hunting bullet? Using Federal’s 130-grain Triple-Shok load, the first group out of the bore measured 0.23 inch. Almost not believing what I was seeing, I tried a third load, Nosler’s AccuBond Long Range, which resulted in a mortal 0.72-inch group. If the Model 21 isn’t the most accurate hunting rifle I’ve ever tested, it’s damn close.
Nosler Model 21 Specs
- Type: Bolt-action repeating rifle
- Caliber: 6.5 Creedmoor (tested)
- Magazine Capacity: 4+1
- Barrel: 22 in. Shilen; match grade, nitride/bead-blasted stainless steel
- Overall length: 41.63 in.
- Weight: 6 lbs., 20 oz.
- Stock: McMillan Hunter’s Edge
- Sights: None; drilled and tapped for scope
- Trigger: 3.75-lb.-pull (adjustable), TriggerTech Field model
- Price: $2,795
- Website: nosler.com
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