“Phil, in a nutshell, this cartridge gives .300 Weatherby ballistics in a .30-06-length receiver; we’re all really stoked about this one,” Zach said.
I could see why; the Nosler series of cartridges—including the .26, .28 and .30 Nosler—are based on the Remington Ultra Magnum case, but shortened to 2.500 inches in order to fit in a standard long-action rifle. The test data affirmed their design goals; the 30 Nosler will indeed match the velocity of the revered .300 Weatherby and will give a significant increase in velocity over the current standard-length .30-caliber champion, the .300 Winchester Magnum. The 30 Nosler’s nice, sharp shoulder provides good headspacing, and the rimless design will combat the usual case stretching just north of the belt that is associated with the .375 H&H-style magnum case. The 30 Nosler gives a case capacity increase of roughly 9 percent over the .300 Winchester Magnum, and is only a couple of grains of capacity behind the .300 Weatherby Magnum.
I was fortunate enough to have a good friend of mine, Nathan Chesney of Hillbilly Rifles, ask me to test drive one of his new rifles in 30 Nosler, and I didn’t hesitate at all to accept the job. This rifle fit like a glove, had a trigger that broke like an icicle, and was topped with a Leupold 4.5-14×40, so there was no blaming the gun for any part of this experiment. Nate had even equipped this gorgeous gun with a muzzle brake just to make sure I could shoot it well.
I obtained 50 pieces of 30 Nosler brass from Nosler itself and headed to the reloading bench. Obviously, I wanted to see what this new case would do, and if it was indeed a significant increase over the .300 Winchester. After setting up the RCBS dies, I full-length resized all the component brass, and set out to grab the remainder of the components. I’d need a large rifle magnum primer, and as usual the Federal Gold Medal Match GM215M got the nod. I knew this case would probably work best with the slow-burning powders, so I grabbed some of Hodgdon’s RETUMBO and H4831SC, some IMR7828, and a pound of Alliant’s Reloder 25, an old standby in a .30 Magnum case. For projectiles, I tried to give a good cross-section of the available components: Sierra’s 168- and 190-grain Match King; the Nosler AccuBond and Ballistic Tip; the Swift Scirocco II; the Berger VLD Hunting and the Barnes LRX boat tail. I was looking for some bullets which would give a good, long bearing surface, to build up the pressures which would generate the velocities you’d expect from the 30 Nosler and yet take advantage of the flat trajectory.
Some of our chosen combinations yielded absolute winners; others, well, not so much. Speaking in generalizations, the initial experiments yielded a couple of facts: Our test gun liked the longer bullets, and it also liked both Hodgdon’s H4831SC and Alliant’s Reloder 25. I can’t say that I’m really shocked by this, as both of these powders have long been excellent performers in the large-capacity cases. The 30 Nosler has the same SAAMI Cartridge Overall Length as the .30-06 Springfield and the .300 Winchester Magnum—3.340 inches—but our rifle had a longer magazine as well as a longer throat, so we were able to test some of the bullets at a longer COL, and still be safe. Load data came from the Nosler No. 8 Reloading Manual, and was interpolated for bullets other than Nosler.
Advertised velocities can be a funny thing. Let’s use the .300 Win. Mag. as an example. You can, if you’d like, approach 3,150 fps with 180-grain bullets, using canister-grade powders, and while I’ve come close to that figure before, those maximum loads were never remarkably accurate. I have spent a lot of time reloading for that particular cartridge, and usually find the best accuracy at around 2,950 to 3,000 fps, depending on the rifle. Does that make it a disappointment? Not at all, as my goal is to produce accurate ammunition, and not necessarily wring every last ounce of velocity potential out of the given cartridge.
Same thing happened with the 30 Nosler. I found the accuracy—again, in our given rifle—at slightly less velocity than could potentially be obtained, but enough to still warrant the use of the new, bigger case. The two bullets that produced the best accuracy were the Sierra 190-grain Match King and the 175-grain Barnes LRX BT, each producing ½ to ¾ MOA, consistently. The Sierra gave good groups, and good standard deviation on velocity with two loads: 78.0 grains of H4831SC, for an average velocity of 2,940 fps, and 81.0 grains of Reloder 25, for an average velocity of 2,960 fps. Both of the Sierra loads used a COL of 3.350 inches, which functioned perfectly through the Hillbilly Rifle. Considering this rifle was brand new, I’m perfectly okay with that performance.
The Barnes 175-grain LRX BT gave the best accuracy among the hunting bullets I tested, printing groups averaging right around ½ MOA, at an even 3,100 fps, with a standard deviation of less than 10 fps. I seated the Barnes a bit shorter at 3.320 inches, as these bullets often like to jump, over a charge of 81.0 grains of RL25. I’ve often had trouble getting Barnes bullets to shoot well from my rifles, but this was clearly not the case in the .30 Nosler. The combination of good 100-yard groups and a very low standard deviation, mated with a bullet that will retain both velocity and energy downrange, encouraged me to try this bullet in some other rifles I own, and I’m looking forward to taking it afield this autumn.
There were other bullets that gave decent, if not stellar performance; while the groups wouldn’t necessarily impress the target community, I knew they would suffice for 95 percent of my hunting situations, and would hit with authority. The 180-grain Swift Scirocco II (a long-time favorite of mine), seated over a charge of 79.0 grains of H4831SC, printed groups of just over MOA, at 3,010 fps. The 180-grain Nosler AccuBond gave 100-yard accuracy of 1.5 MOA, at 3,030 fps, but a very low (5 fps) standard deviation of velocity when seated over a charge of 84.0 grains of RETUMBO. As I’ve found in some other .30 Magnums, the AccuBond bullet will give “disappointing” groups at 100-yards, yet seem to “tighten up” at longer distances, especially when you have a consistent velocity reading on the chronograph.
Do note, there is a definite correlation between low standard deviation on velocity and good accuracy at longer ranges, but that’s an entirely different article altogether.
I tried the Berger 190-grain VLD Hunting bullet and Sierra 175-grain Tipped Match King over a couple of loads, but this particular rifle didn’t like either one. I suspect it may have something to do with the shorter bearing surface of the VLD and shorter Match King, but I’ve had excellent results with these bullets in other guns; sometimes a bullet that works well in one barrel won’t shoot worth a damn in another. That’s what drives us reloaders crazy, yet at the same time makes the experimentation so much fun.
The 30 Nosler holds a tough position: It is the new kid on the block in a neighborhood filled with celebrities. The .30 magnums have fervent devotees, and trying to get that crowd to accept a new neighbor is no easy task. However, based on my experiences with this strange, new face, it performs as advertised. In the 30 Nosler you have a non-belted case (so as to avoid the problems associated with case-stretching in front of the belt) that gives velocities that are a definite improvement over the .300 Winchester, while being housed in a standard long-rifle action. The velocities I observed were right on par with those generated by the .300 Weatherby loads, and while we may be splitting hairs over 50 fps or so, I think the central point is that the cartridge does indeed perform well and is capable of excellent accuracy.
Am I going to sell all my .300 Winchesters to run out and buy a 30 Nosler? Probably not, but I certainly wouldn’t be unhappy carrying one in any hunting situation, irrespective of shot distance. If you’re in the market for a new .30-caliber magnum cartridge, I’d look long and hard at the 30 Nosler while making my decision: It has all the attributes you’ll need.
Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from the June 2016 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.