Welcome to the retro-future. The single shot, bolt action M48 Nosler Custom Handgun reaches back into shooting history to create one of the coolest, most effective hunting pistols of the future.
The M48 Nosler Custom Handgun (NCH) can trace its roots way back to Metallic Silhouette Shooting, and to the Remington XP-100. Believe it or not, shooting steel far away is nothing new. In fact, Metallic Silhouette Shooting was one of the most popular shooting sports in the late 1970’s and 80s. Bolt action handguns, the most popular of which was the Remington XP-100, were built specifically to compete in the handgun divisions of the sport.
The M48 NCH takes a lot of cues from the XP-100 and these kinds of guns.
I’m guessing there are several people with access to the internet who have actually shot some of these guns on a silhouette course back in the sport’s heyday. Well, “several” might be a stretch. I was a boy back then, and only lucky enough to go and shoot because some of my older relatives were all about it.
To a kid, these pistols looked like something out of a science fiction movie. There was ton of experimentation back then, and the space-race to top shooting led to a bunch of wild ideas. It was almost expected that the better gunsmiths would be building one-off guns and competing with them. Things like the “bloop gun” and “chin gun” were invented. Rules would be changed, and the hunt for the best gear for the best scores would begin again.
They were these super cool guns shooting super cool calibers. It probably also helped that they tended to be in the hands of shooters who were more than casual in their hobby, folks who were passionate about shooting and generally had a lot of information to pass on.
Metallic silhouette shooting slowly lost its prominence, but I didn’t forget those people, and I certainly didn’t forget those guns.
Apparently, neither did Nosler.
I’m guessing there’s more to the M48 NCH than Nosler wanting the business of a teeny tiny niche market. I’d be willing to bet there’s a few people at that American icon of a company who remember not just these guns, but these gunsmiths. The M48 would make Conard Bernhardt, and the pioneers like him, proud.
Take a look at it. The stock is made of a single piece of 6061-T6 aircraft grade aluminum. It’s designed specifically for the M48 NCH Nosler Custom Handgun.
It’s genius. Nosler took the “space age” looking pistols of the past and dialed it all the way up to “ray gun”. Instead of chunky wood, Nosler’s sleek design looks like it belong on the cover of a science fiction paperback.
It’s not just great looking, it’s perfectly functional. The aluminum stock allows for a solid bedding and ample space to both float and cool a heavy contour barrel. The wide, flat fore-end has a sling lug mount for a bipod, and yet still has enough real estate to nestle onto a bag or rest.
Nosler chose the color scheme for this Trial and Evaluation (T&E) model. It’s not something I would have come up with. That’s because I’m not as cool as them. The triple color scheme of metallic blue, burnt bronze, and the grey fluted bolt only adds to the futuristic aesthetic.
These really are custom handguns. You can choose from a wide variety of colors for the different parts of the pistol. You can also change the grip, caliber, barrel length, chambering, fluting of the barrel and the bolt.
During the earliest days of pistol silhouette shooting, the guns all had irons sights to remain legal for competition. It wasn’t long before divisions opened up allowing any optic to be used. That’s when shooters started putting long eye relief scopes on their bolt action and break open pistols.
There are no sights on the M48 NCH and it doesn’t need them. The simplest optic mounting option is to put a solid rail atop the receiver. Although that’s simple, it greatly reduces the free space under the optic and between the chamber, when you have the bolt open. That makes quick reloading of the single shot pistol more challenging, and also makes cleaning and maintenance a bit harder.
The better option is a set of traditional two-piece ring mounts. That gives the shooter tons of space to work and to reload.
The best handgun scope on the market is the Leupold VX3 2.5-8x32mm handgun scope. I’ve put several other handgun scopes on other pistols and revolvers and I’m done with all of them. Until Leupold makes something better, this is the only magnified optic I intend to use on handguns.
I wanted Leupold rings as well, but there were no sets that fit the mounting pattern on the receiver and were also close enough together to fit between the bells of the scope.
Leupold customer service earned their stellar reputation. After calling their toll-free number, an agent stayed on the phone with me for a full half hour. He took the measurements I gave him and then went back and measured different mounts and rings until he came up with a solution that worked.
Unfortuantley, it was made up of pieces from different sets. I already had three of the four pieces I’d need. Instead of charging me for a whole set to get the one part I needed, Leupold just sent me that one part, free of charge.
Back in its heyday, shooters experimented with all sorts of locations for the grip on these types of handguns. Nosler has chosen a mid-stock grip, allowing for a balanced gun for most shooting positions. Getting behind the pistol on a rest or with the bipod is most natural, but off-hand shooting can also be plenty accurate.
On a recent bear hunting trip, a mature black bear walked in front of me, much closer than I had expected. Not wanting to spook the bear that was now within 25 yards and looking in my direction, I simply raised the handgun and fired off-hand as you would a traditional pistol. The result: one dead bear, struck right through the heart.
The solid balance of the mid-stock grip necessitates a linkage between the trigger shoe and the sear/release itself. This is a pretty simple affair on the M48 NCH and is unsurprisingly effective.
The trigger is made in-house by Nosler. Because of the linkage, you might expect it to be similar to bullpup rifles. It is not. This pistol’s trigger is better than the vast majority of the better rifle triggers on the market. It has a teeny-tiny amount of squish, follow by a clean break at 3 lbs.
The pistol grip is the widely available Hogue overmolded rubberized grip. I usually don’t like this kind of grip on a handgun, but it looks good and works well for this application. If that grip isn’t your cup of tea, you can easily swap it out, as the stock fits any standard AR pistol grip.
Swapping the grip out might be a good idea, depending on your hand size. As there’s no stock to press against your shoulder, you’re going to need solid grip on the gun to manage aim and recoil. Also, like any pistol, the grip size and shape itself is going to determine if your trigger finger lines up properly to ensure you don’t move the point of aim during your trigger squeeze.
The common receiver-mounted safety would work, technically, but with the bolt behind the grip, it would be pretty awkward. Instead, Nosler designed a cross-bolt style safety immediately above the trigger. Not only is it easy to move on and off with your index finger and support hand, but it’s now also in line with your eye in order to see its status.
This is only one of the many well thought out features of the Nosler Custom Handgun. Note the bolt. There’s a red ring that designates when the firearm is cocked. Beyond this safety feature, Nosler has taken the effort to provide facets and textures to the rear of the bolt, as well as the bolt handle. It’s also two different colors, adding an eye-catching style to the working bits of the gun.
Nosler chambers this rifle in several calibers. This particular pistol is in 7mm08 Remington. For those of you unfamiliar, the 7mm08 is a standardized copy of one of the earlier wildcat cartridges based of the .308 Winchester. Essentially a .308Win case necked down to .284″, it’s one of the best all-around cartridges ever created.
The 7mm bullet’s higher ballistic coefficient and moderate recoil made it an extremely popular cartridge for rifle silhouette shooters. It’s wide range of bullet options and high sectional density made it popular among hunters. It is the ballistic twin of the famous 7X57mm, firing the exact same bullet at the exact same speeds (sometimes faster) but from a short action.
Although the 7mm08 Remington was quickly adopted by silhouette rifle shooters, it was one of the last cartridges to be offered by Remington in the XP-100, and was uncommon compared to smaller calibers like the .223 Remington, when used in competition.
No, it was hunters wanting to take medium and large game with the XP-100 that led Remington to finally adopt the 7mm08 to the lineup. And it’s perfect for it.
Pushed to about 2,700fps, a .284″ 120gr Nosler Ballistic Tip has proven to be lights-out for dozens of deer I’ve killed. This is a very mild load, inexpensive on the wallet, the rifle, and the shoulder. And at 300 yards and under, devastating on deer.
Even with the NCH’s 15″ barrel, this load is perfectly duplicable in bullet weight, speed, and lethality.
I’m not the first person to realize that a rifle’s mild but effective load with the 7mm08 Remington could also be a fast load through shorter barreled pistol. If you take a look at several reloading manuals, and the Hodgdon Reloading website, you’ll find there’s often recipes for the 7mm08 in both the rifle and pistol section.
So what can you really do with a pistol like this? Are we going to be limited to a brush gun, or can we really get out there with it?
When it comes to precision, the weak points on this handgun are the optic and the user. Although the original concept was born of competition, this isn’t a competition gun for me. This is a (friggin’ awesome) hunting handgun.
As such, I focused my load development on acceptable accuracy and with the nod to power delivered down range. I needed loads that generated between 1,300 and 1,500 ft-lbs of energy delivered out to 300 yards, and with velocities still over 2,000 fps at that distance for reliable bullet expansion.
Only one load that met those criteria printed larger than 1″ groups. That was a maximum load of 41 grains of Varget behind a 160gr Nosler Accubond, with a recorded velocity of 2,520 fps from this gun. It printed 1.3″ average groups. At 250 yards, no elk alive would remain that way with a solid broadside shot from this round.
Every other hunting round I loaded scored just under the 1″ mark. These included mid-to max pressure rounds with weights from 120-162 grains, and from several bullet and case manufacturers. Since so many rounds were within just a couple of tenths of an inch of each other, I have to assume that the long eye relief 8X optic and my own shooting ability were the limiting factors.
All groups were the average of four strings of five rounds shot at 100 yards, untimed and off of bags. The suppressor was removed for these tests and only the thread protector was installed at the muzzle.
Outfitted exactly as is, there’s no reason a competent marksman can’t hit the vitals of any medium size game out to 300 yards under field conditions. On a recent prairie dog hunt in Wyoming, several shooters, including my guide who had never shot anything like this before, repeatedly nailed the little critters from as far away as 250 yards.
Taking it a bit further at The Ranch TX, 10″ plates at 600 yards with the 140gr Accubond weren’t particularly challenging when shooting off the bipod and laying prone.
Should you choose to chase tiny little groups with this gun, there’s no reason to believe you won’t be able to fire even smaller groups than the sub-Minute of Angle groups I’m currently very pleased with.
Nosler chose Shilen to make the barrels for the M48. If Shilen ever knew how to make a bad barrel, they forgot a long time ago. This particular gun includes a 15″ heavy contour barrel made of 416R stainless steel. Since these are custom handguns, you can choose your barrel length, from 12-18″.
This particular T&E model sports an un-fluted barrel, but if you want flutes to reduce weight or just to look pretty, Nosler will accommodate that request as well. Each barrel is threaded and comes with a thread protector and a Harrell’s Precision 4-port muzzle brake.
I’ve put about 300 rounds through this gun so far. One hundred of those were loaded with 120gr Nosler Ballistic Tips, 50 with 140gr Nosler Accubonds, and another 50 with the Nosler Combined Technologies 150gr Ballistic Tip bullets. I also used the Nosler 160gr Partition, 130gr and 160 Speer Hot Cor and 145gr Speer Spitzer Boat Tail bullets, 20 of the Nosler 168gr Long Range Accubonds, and some others.
At no point did I experience any issues with reliability. Without a magazine and using an extremely well-proven single shot bolt action design, there just isn’t much to go wrong. The single claw style extractor never failed to extract and the single plunger ejector never failed to throw the round clear. I cleaned the gun when I got it, did a full barrel break-in procedure, and then cleaned it again prior to shooting groups.
It should be noted that most of the shooting was done with a silencer attached and in temperatures ranging between 85-102 degrees. I also pushed quite a few of these home-made rounds right at the top of the SAAMI pressure specifications, attempting to wring as much velocity as I could from the shorter barrel.
Again, absolutely nothing went wrong. The gun never failed to fire, load, or eject. Occasionally a max-pressure round in the high Texas heat would require a bit of a harder pull on the bolt. When it did, the round came out and ejected just fine.
Eventually, everyone asks about recoil. The short answer is that there just isn’t much. If you take a look at most recoil calculators, you’ll find that the math says the M48 Nosler Custom Handgun has about 25% more recoil energy than common .44 Remington Magnum commercial loads when fired from a 5.5″ Ruger Blackhawk.
The math doesn’t match the feeling. The Ruger Blackhawk in .44Mag feels like a whole lot more gun. With so much of the weight forward of the chamber and with such a large and wide grip as is provided, the Nosler an easy-shooting handgun.
There’s absolutely no issue running 50-shot strings through this gun and it’s highly unlikely you’ll develop a flinch. Throw a muzzle brake on it or, better yet, a suppressor, and the muzzle barely hops off the bag when you pull the trigger. The M48’s shootability is another testament to the geometric genius of the Nosler design.
The M48 Nosler Custom Handgun is powerful, portable pistol. Purely as a hunting tool, it’s great in and of itself. I’ve put the whole thing inside a medium sized backpack and hiked up and down mountains. The fact that you can do that and still take any of the common game animals in North America with it, or most of the plains game in Africa, makes this a practical firearm as well.
There’s a lot more to it than that. It’s history. It’s craftsmanship. It’s solid engineering with a razor sharp eye to design, all from an American family-owned business, synonymous with hunting. At every opportunity, this is the gun I’m hunting with.
Specifications: M48 Nosler Custom Handgun
Caliber: 7mm-08 (five other chamberings available)
Stock: 6061-T6 aircraft grade aluminum
Trigger: Nosler Custom
Finish: NIC Industries Cerakote (customer’s choice of colors)
Receiver: M48 Single Shot Solid Bottom
Muzzle Brake: Harrell’s Precision 4-Port Brake
Grip: Black Hogue Over-molded Standard
Barrel: Shilen 416R Stainless Heavy Contour, Threaded.
Twist Rate: 1/9 (7mm08Rem)
Length: 21″ total (with 15″ barrel)
Barrel Length: 15″ (Others available)
Weight 5.4 lbs. (as reviewed)
Ratings (out of five stars):
Style and Appearance: * * * * *
“An elegant weapon, for a more civilized age.”
Customization: * * * * *
It’s called the Nosler Custom Handgun. Order what you want and they make it.
Accuracy: * * * * *
Sub-minute group in a handgun with a wide range of hunting loads.
Reliability: * * * * *
Simple and perfect.
Overall: Billions and Billions of Stars (OK, * * * * *)
The M48 Nosler Custom Handgun is the most interesting, most impressive gun I’ve reviewed in a while. It reminds me of my past and pushes my skills forward as a hunter. Nosler built this gun like they were trying to show off what they could really do, and it worked.