Light as a feather, the Nosler M48 Mountain Carbon is more than just a dream to carry into the backcountry. It's also a dream to shoot.
What The M48 Mountain Carbon Offers Rugged Country Hunters:
- Extremely light rifle, weighing in at just 6 pounds.
- Shootablity, thanks to a recoil-eating muzzle brake.
- Adjustable Timney trigger that can be dialed to a user's preference.
- A stiff and light 24-inch carbon-fiber-wrapped barrel with cut rifling.
- Fiberglass and aluminum pillar-bedding in a carbon-fiber Mountain Hunter Stock.
Historically speaking, I have not been a fan of light rifles. Yes, they carry very nicely, and their lack of weight—although it’s often no more than 2 or 3 pounds—surely feels good going up a mountain.
But it usually comes at a price. A seriously light rifle doesn’t seem to balance well; recoil can be ferocious; and when it comes time for the shot, it can take what seems like forever for the muzzle to settle down. It’s a classic tradeoff—reduced weight or “shootability”—and I’ll almost always opt for a well-balanced, heavier rifle and gladly carry a bit more weight.
That said, I’ve “met” a handful of light rifles that seem to have “it” and that handle very nicely; they were, in fact, properly proportioned and balanced well. For me, I know it when I feel it. Among those light rifles that grabbed my attention is the Nosler M48 Mountain Carbon.
I was visiting with my pals at the Nosler booth at the 2019 SHOT Show when Jeff Sipe handed me a rifle. I’ve known Jeff for years, and although he’s been at Nosler for just over a year, he’s made his mark on Nosler’s rifle line. I grabbed the rifle from Jeff; in fact, I grabbed it too hard, because I thought there was more weight to the gun than was actually there.
“There’s nothing to this thing!” I exclaimed. “What’s it chambered for?”
Sipe gave a sly grin and uttered in a completely deadpan voice, “.33 Nosler.”
I made a wincing face, knowing the muzzle velocity the .33 Nosler generates and thinking about the recoil in a rifle this light.
“Phil, with this brake on board, you’ll sit with this rifle at the bench all day with no problem,” Jeff pointed out.
I don’t like muzzle brakes either, but I could see that on this rifle, it was a matter of necessity.
“I want to send you one to shoot, and I’ll bet you’ll be a believer,” Jeff said confidently. He knows how I feel about rifles … and damn it, he was right.
Nosler’s M48 is a push-feed affair, with the action blueprinted and hardened. An adjustable Timney trigger is mounted to a Remington 700-style two-position safety—situated on the right side of the receiver on a right-handed rifle. An aluminum hinged floorplate and trigger guard keep the fixed magazine in place, and all the metal work of the receiver is coated in a tungsten-gray Cerakote finish. That receiver is mated to a 24-inch, carbon-fiber-wrapped barrel with cut rifling.
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The muzzle end of the barrel is threaded for use with a muzzle brake or suppressor, and a thread protecting cap is included. The action is both fiberglass and aluminum pillar-bedded to the carbon-fiber Mountain Hunter Stock, which is finished in Granite Green and has a textured, raised area on both the pistol grip and forend.
The stock has a bit of a raised comb for proper sight alignment with a scope—but no cheekpiece—and a pliable recoil pad takes the sting out of the shot. A nice palm swell is built into the pistol grip, giving an excellent feel from any shooting position. A 13½-inch length of pull is our American standard, and although I usually prefer a longer dimension, the Mountain Carbon fit well. Sling swivel studs are provided fore and aft.
I found the action to be smooth—with just the slightest hint of that Cerakote gritty feel that fades as the action parts are broken in. The trigger broke crisply and cleanly, with no creep or overtravel. I grabbed my Lyman digital trigger scale, and the Timney broke consistently at 2 pounds, 12 ounces. For a hunting rifle, this is just about perfect, because it’s light enough to accurately place shots on distant targets, yet not so light as to go off before you want, especially on up-close shots when your adrenalin is up.
The carbon-wrapped steel barrel is certainly light for its diameter, but even so, it dissipated heat very efficiently. It’s what Nosler refers to as a “Sendero” contour, and it’s on the thicker side, yet still light and rigid. The knurled bolt handle gives a positive grip, and the two opposing locking lugs make for a strong action. Nevertheless, they lock up quickly and smoothly without hindering the speed of the bolt cycle. A 90-degree bolt throw offers a familiar feel, and the large gas ports that are cut into the bolt body are designed to deflect gases downward should there be an issue with an over-pressure cartridge.
In .33 Nosler, the M48 Mountain Carbon holds three in the magazine and one in the chamber. The closed bolt face has a beefy plunger ejector that will throw spent brass yards—not feet (because I’m a reloader, I spent a bit of time hunting for the brass in the grass!).
The M48 Mountain Carbon is available in four of Nosler’s proprietary cartridges: the .26, .28, .30 and .33 Nosler, as well as 6mm and 6.5mm Creedmoor and .300 Winchester Magnum. My test rifle was chambered for the beefy and speedy .33 Nosler. All of these Nosler cartridges are based on the venerable .404 Jeffery case, shortened to function in a long-action (.30-’06 Springfield) receiver. The case of the .33 Nosler measures 2.460 inches. With a cartridge, it has an overall length of 3.340 inches (the same as the .30-06 Springfield), yet it gives velocities normally associated with the magnum-length cases.
Despite the lack of the term, “magnum,” in the name, the .33 Nosler is, indeed, a true magnum, and because it’s a child of the .404 Jeffery, it’s a beltless design, headspacing on its 35-degree shoulder. The Nosler case feeds well, and there were no extraction issues during testing.
Nosler’s design sits well ahead of the .338 Winchester Magnum and just behind the longer .340 Weatherby Magnum. For the hunter, it works very well with the 225-grain Nosler AccuBond and the 265-grain AccuBond Long Range. For the target crowd, it will drive the high-ballistic-coefficient, 300-grain Nosler Custom Competition to a muzzle velocity of 2,550 fps.
The pair of hunting bullets offers a respectable trajectory for any hunter; the 225-grain AccuBond load will mimic the .300 Winchester Magnum’s 180-grain trajectory out to 400 yards, and the 265-grain ABLR will mimic the .30-06 Springfield 180-grain load. Both generate more than 4,500 ft-lbs of muzzle energy, with the 225-grain load leaving at 3,040 fps and the 265-grain load at 2,745 fps. At 400 yards, they’ll deliver 2,800 and 3,180 ft-lbs of energy, respectively. By comparison, the .30-06 Springfield, when loaded with a 180-grain bullet at 2,750 fps, generates slightly more than 3,000 ft-lbs at the muzzle.
Needless to say, this cartridge will handle all of our North American game animals—including the huge bears of the north and bison—and all of the world’s game except Cape buffalo, hippo and elephant.
At the Bench
To test the Nosler M48 Mountain Carbon, I grabbed a Leupold VX-3i 4.5-14x40mm riflescope—a lightweight affair in and of itself and a proper match to this rifle’s capabilities—and set it in Talley rings and bases. Over a couple of decades of hunting with big-bore rifles, I’ve found that this combination of scope and rings/bases has worked best for me.
The tolerances on the Talley rings are so tight, I rarely find that more than 3 MOA of adjustment are needed to get the rig zeroed; this allows the full adjustment range of the scope to be utilized. That Leupold VX-3i series is an excellent value: The side focus knob allows the shooter to dial out any parallax, and the glass in the 3i models seems to be a dramatic improvement over the VX3 scopes.
The M48 Mountain Carbon stock fit me very well, even from the bench, and with the muzzle brake installed, the rifle shot more like a .308 or .30-06 than anything else.
Was it loud? Of course; but again, that’s one of the tradeoffs for the lightweight rifle. The M48 test rifle showed a preference for the 225-grain AccuBond ammo, printing ¾-inch, three-shot groups at 100 yards. The 265-grain stuff wasn’t far behind, averaging just over an inch. I attribute a bit of that performance to the lack of weight; it wasn’t the easiest rifle to hold steady, but it was still at the 1 MOA mark. All said, I find this rifle’s accuracy and portability to be an excellent balance.
Worth the Price of Admission
Where does the Nosler M48 Mountain Carbon fit in the grand scheme of things? Well, at just 6 pounds—unloaded and before scope and mounts—it certainly ticks all the boxes in the mountain rifle category. Although all of the Nosler cartridges are of sound design (even if the .26 Nosler is a bit overbore), the .33 Nosler is a perfect choice for the backcountry hunter in pursuit of black and brown bear, elk and moose. (And if my pals at Nosler are reading this: A 250-grain Partition load would be most excellent in the .33 Nosler, especially for closer shots on bear and bigger antelope in Africa.)
It has some very usable features. I especially like the fact that the two-position safety doesn’t lock the bolt when on “safe,” allowing for safe unloading, and the work Nosler has put into designing the action and stock is worth the price of admission. The rifle is weatherproof. For the hunter who travels to a variety of different climates, this rifle will be consistent, whether it’s in the dry heat of the high Namibian deserts or the damp Alaskan coast.
The firing pin and springs are coated with Micro Slick—a dry lubricant perfect for extreme cold-weather hunts—and the anti-bind rail in the receiver keeps things running smoothly, even under high-stress situations. I ran the bolt of the M48 Mountain Carbon hard—as hard as I ever would on a dangerous game hunt, and it didn’t bind, jam, or fail to feed or extract.
With an MSRP of $3,140 (the street price is about $2,700), the M48 Mountain Carbon is a purchase requiring serious forethought, and it might be out of many shooters’ price range. But when you consider the money that is to be spent on the hunts for which a rifle of this proportion is required, it is actually a good value. Backcountry hunts usually require a good amount of travel, and if it’s guided, the cost will go up significantly.
The Nosler M48 Mountain Carbon will give a lifetime of good service. It’s one of those rifles that inspires a shooter just by working the action.
For more information on the Nosler M48 Mountain Carbon, please visit nosler.com.
The article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.
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