The third time may be a proverbial charm, but the fourth time proved to be a winner for me. I had scheduled an axis deer hunt in Texas, but had to cancel three times due to bad weather and other factors. When I finally climbed into a deer stand for the hunt, the combination of a dark moon phase and the unusually chilly 26-degree temperature had me hoping the animals would be moving, and they were.
First light revealed several whitetail deer and a mix of blackbuck does and bucks near my stand. Within an hour, a very nice axis buck appeared, seemingly from nowhere, 150 yards away at the edge of a line of oaks. I let him go. With two trophy axis bucks on the wall at home, I was after tasty versus trophy, and my agreement with the fine folks at Texas Hill Country Axis Hunts was to cull a mature buck with less-than-trophy headgear. The perfect candidate soon appeared under the same tree line. He was 4-5 years old and his sub-par antlers would never get any better, but I had to wait 10 minutes for him to quit sparring with a younger, better-antlered buck before I put an end to the hostilities with a heart shot.
That was a fairly ordinary conclusion to an axis deer hunt in Texas, but there was nothing ordinary about the rifle I was using.
The rifle used on that hunt was the Nosler M48 Mountain Carbon rifle, chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor and tipping the scales at just six pounds. There are lighter rifles out there, to be certain, but many have shorter barrels and don’t provide the velocity advantage of the Mountain Carbon rifle’s 24-inch barrel. The rifle achieves weight savings primarily through the use of a cut-rifled, carbon fiber-wrapped barrel from Proof Research, in what Nosler describes as a “light Sendero” contour, combined with a carbon fiber Aramid-reinforced stock. The Proof Research barrel adds cost to the rifle, but it also sheds substantial weight, is aesthetically pleasing and has earned a reputation for being quite accurate.
For me, the rifle falls into the just-right category. It is neither too light nor too heavy and is equally at home on high alpine peaks and arid desert flats. It is not, however, an economy-priced rifle. The gun has an MSRP of $3,140, and that’s a reflection of high-quality components and hand-craftsmanship that go into its construction. You would expect to get a lot of rifle for anything wearing this price tag, and with this gun, you will. Here’s a closer look at what makes this rifle worthy of its price.
Nosler, once known primarily as an ammo manufacturer, has been making fine rifles at the company’s Oregon facility since 2005. The guns are built around — and have much of their weight centered in — the flat-bottomed M48 action, so the rifle is well-balanced in the hands. The action is not a revolutionary design. Rather, it borrows some of the best features from other actions and combines them into a design that is both strong and precise. The push-feed, CNC-machined action is blueprinted and trued, and the one-piece bolt’s two large locking lugs are hand-lapped to enhance accuracy. The bolt rides on a full-length guide rail via a slot in the right-side locking lug and a left-side raceway, and I found that the action cycled smoothly with very little wobble. At the front of the bolt, you’ll find a standard plunger ejector and a substantial Sako-style extractor. Bolt lift is 90 degrees.
The action has a beefy recoil lug and is both glass and aluminum pillar-bedded to the stock. The barrel is free-floated and is threaded (5/8×24) at the muzzle to accept muzzle brakes or suppressors. The rifle ships with a knurled thread protector in place, and in testing at the range, it stayed in place and did not work loose as some occasionally do on other rifles. The top of the receiver is drilled and tapped to accept Remington 700-style bases.
Attention to detail is evident in the Mountain Carbon rifle from the moment you pick it up. Fit and finish are excellent, and that includes the execution of the tungsten gray Cerakote finish on the action and all exterior metal. The rifle’s trigger is another excellent example of Nosler’s commitment to quality with this rifle. Unlike many of today’s lower-priced production rifles, which ship from the factory with triggers that I can only describe as abysmal, Nosler made a sound choice with this rifle.
The trigger is from Timney, a name that is synonymous with great triggers. As the gun arrived from the factory, the trigger broke consistently at a pull weight of 3 pounds, 3 ounces with zero creep. That’s just slightly heavier than I prefer for a hunting rifle. Although the Timney is adjustable, I left it as it arrived because the trigger broke so cleanly and crisply that I was easily able to shoot some tiny groups with it at the range. A two-position, rocker-type safety mounted within easy reach of the thumb does not lock the bolt down.
The Mountain Carbon rifle’s lightweight Aramid/carbon fiber stock is quite rigid and has good ergonomics, with a slight Monte Carlo comb and palm swell. The bottom of the forend is flattened, which helps in obtaining a solid rest on sandbags or the top of a pack. The color, which Nosler calls Granite Green, has subtle black and green flecks and stippling in all the right places for a secure grip. The stock finish was the only thing about the rifle I wasn’t entirely pleased with as it has just a bit too much shine for my liking, but that’s a purely subjective criticism on my part and others may find it more aesthetically pleasing than I did.
The rifle is available in seven chamberings. Rifles in 6mm Creedmoor and 6.5 Creedmoor have short-action versions of the M48 action and a magazine capacity of four rounds. Long-action chamberings include 26 Nosler, 28 Nosler, 300 Win. Mag., 30 Nosler, and 33 Nosler. Magazine capacity in the long-action guns is three rounds. The internal box magazine has a hinged floorplate made of aluminum and wears a protective Cerakote finish that matches the rest of the action.
For testing at the range, I mounted a Bushnell Forge 3-18x50mm scope, which I have found to be an excellent performer both at the range and in the field, in a set of Talley lightweight rings. Running five different factory loads over my CED M2 chronograph, I found velocities to be quite close to factory stated numbers with a couple of minor exceptions. A Black Hills Gold load using a 147 gr. ELD-M bullet was 129 fps slower than advertised but also turned in superb groups, as you’ll see in a moment. At the other end of the spectrum, Federal’s 120 gr. Trophy Copper load ran nearly 100 fps faster than the factory stated velocity for that load.
For accuracy testing, I duplicated hunting conditions by firing three shots per load in rapid succession, allowing the barrel to cool between shooting three groups per load. Nosler guarantees the rifle will produce sub-MOA accuracy with selected ammo, and the gun did not disappoint. It did, however, show a real preference for 6.5 Creedmoor loads using heavier bullets versus a couple of loads using lighter bullets.
All three tested loads using bullets in the 140-147 gr. weight class turned in sub-MOA average groups, while two tested factory loads using 120 gr. bullets produced average groups measuring an identical 1.27 inches. All but one of the five loads produced sub-MOA best groups and the only one that didn’t missed the mark by a mere .07 inch. The star performer of the bunch was the Black Hills Gold load with a 147 gr. ELD-M bullet. It printed a best group measuring just 0.16 inch, measured the traditional way (outside edge to outside edge, minus the bullet diameter). The average group size for that load was just 0.42 inches.
Ah, but that’s a match load, you say. What about a hunting load? Hornady’s Precision Hunter round with a 143 gr. ELD-X bullet turned in a best group of just 0.24 inch and average groups measuring 0.94 inches. I’ve shot a lot of animals with that load over the past several years, and it continues to drop game with monotonously efficient performance. It’s the load I used to test the Mountain Carbon rifle on the axis buck mentioned earlier. At a distance of 150 yards, the bullet demolished the buck’s heart, and I recovered the perfectly mushroomed bullet from just beneath the offside hide.
That’s a perfect performance with a go-anywhere rifle that’s perfectly at home in any hunting environment in any type of weather.
Nosler M48 Mountain Carbon Rifle
Caliber: 6.5 Creedmoor, 1:8 twist
Action Type: M48 bolt action
Barrel: Carbon fiber-wrapped, cut rifling
Finish: Cerakote tungsten grey
Stock: Carbon fiber, Aramid reinforced
Magazine/capacity: internal box, 4+1
Sights: None, drilled and tapped
Barrel Length: 24 inches. threaded
Overall Length: 45 inches
Weight: 6.0 pounds
Nosler M48 Mountain Carbon Rifle 6.5 Creedmoor
|Load||Avg. Velocity (feet per second||Avg. Group 100 yards||Best Group 100 yards|
|Barnes Vor-TX 120 gr. TTSX BT||2,938||1.27||0.95|
|Black Hills Gold 147 gr. ELD-M||2,571||0.42||0.16|
|Federal Premium 120 gr. Trophy Copper||2,894||1.27||1.07|
|Hornady Precision Hunter 143 gr. ELD-X||2,636||0.94||0.24|
|Winchester Match 140 gr. BTHP||2,695||0.88||0.36|
Note: Velocity was an average of 3 shots, measured with a Competitive Edge Dynamics M2 chronograph. Accuracy is taken from three 5-shot groups at 100 yards in wind varying 5-12 mph.