Those interested enough in guns to read this column on a regular basis are probably familiar with the Nosler people having introduced three proprietary cartridges each of the past three years. Designated as the 26, 28 and 30 Noslers, all three are super magnums based on Remington’s voluminous Ultra Mag case shortened just enough to cycle through standard-length actions. I use the term “super magnum” in describing those cartridges because they substantially improve on the ballistics of the .264 Win., 7mm Rem. and .300 Win. magnums, respectively, which kinda’ represent the benchmark for “standard” magnum performance in their respective calibers.
Even more significant to my mind is Nosler’s introduction this year of its 22 Nosler, a cartridge that, by simply switching the upper and magazine with any AR-15 platform rifle, transforms it into the fastest, most powerful .22-caliber semi-auto on the planet. The cartridge itself is unique; in other words, it is not based on an existing case. For it to function with the AR’s bolt carrier group, it had to have the same rim diameter as the .223/5.56, which it has. But to improve on those ballistics the case had to hold more powder. And because the basic AR design doesn’t allow for a longer overall cartridge length, the only way to go was with a more corpulent body.
The result is a hull that has the same .378-inch rim diameter as the .223, but the body ahead of it measures .440-inch, making it .062-inch fatter. Bottom line: the 22 Nosler holds more than 20 percent more powder than the .223, yielding 30 percent more energy and nearly 300 fps more velocity.
Nosler claims 3,350 fps for its 55-grain factory loading from an 18-inch, gas-operated semi-auto; a .223/5.56 will produce less than 3,100. In a standard 24-inch test barrel, the nominal velocity for the 55-grain .223 is 3,250 fps; the 22 Nosler will do 3,500. That puts it within shouting distance of a .22-250! Nosler’s 77-grain Custom Competition load produces 2,950 fps in an 18-inch barrel; 3,100 fps in a standard 24-inch test barrel. This is a SAAMI-standardized cartridge, not a proprietary one, which means consistent brass and chamber dimensions industry wide. As for the magazine, it already existed as the one used with those ARs chambered for the 6.8 Rem. SPC (Special Purpose Cartridge).
Nosler has no plans to produce rifles or uppers themselves, but they do market an AR-platform rifle that’s put together for them by Noveske Rifleworks called the Varmageddon, which is chambered for this newest .22 centerfire cartridge. By the time this hits print, uppers and complete rifles will surely be available from just about everyone who’s producing ARs, and at this writing, uppers are available at Midway USA, AR Stoner and Odin Works. Nosler is, however, already offering its own M48 line of bolt-action rifles chambered for their new baby.
In the design and development of this cartridge, the Nosler people put together 10 uppers built around Shilen barrels, and I was fortunate enough to get my hands on one of them. Surrounding the 20-inch bull barrel is an AR-Stoner M-Lok full float handguard. With my Bushmaster .223 Predator in hand, it took less than 60 seconds to switch uppers and snap in the 6.8 magazine. For testing I mounted one of Bushnell’s new Trophy Xtreme 6-24x50 scopes using a Weaver Cantilever Tactical mount and headed for the range, armed with three boxes each of the two Nosler loads currently available.
To say I was impressed with the accuracy of this rifle would be galactic understatement. With the 77-grain competition load from the 100-yard bench, I shot five consecutive 3-shot groups that averaged 0.47-inch! The 55-grain load averaged “only” 0.90-inch.
I never thought I would ever come to prefer anything but a bolt-action rifle for prairie rat shooting, but I must confess I became an AR convert about five years ago. Not only do ARs have the necessary accuracy, but not having to manipulate a bolt, thus losing the sight picture after every shot, enables you to see your misses and instantly make hold corrections. I love using the .223, but there’s no question that the 22 Nosler is going to be even more capable. I can’t wait to get on a rat town with one!
There’s no question about it: Nosler’s got a real winner on their hands with this feisty little cartridge that bears its headstamp. And with an admission cost of around $325 for a ready-to-go upper, I predict there’s going to be a lot of .223/5.56 uppers gathering dust. But then again, why waste the opportunity to rationalize the purchase of another rifle? I mean, what good is an orphan upper? Is owning two ARs a bad thing?
Anyway, I predict that by next year Nosler will have more loads available, and that Hornady and Federal will also be players in the 22 Nosler game. It’s all good.
While on the subject of ARs, Savage is the latest of the biggies to enter the MSR (Modern Sporting Rifle) arena, and it’s using that very acronym for its new line. Enter the MSR (Modern Savage Rifle) 10 and 15.
The MSR-10 consists of two models, Hunter and Long Range, both of which are offered in .308 Win. or 6.5 Creedmoor. The MSR-15 line also has two models, the Recon and Patrol, both of which are chambered in .223/5.56 only. A Wylde chamber ensures both guns will digest military and civilian ammo with equal aplomb. Other noteworthy features shared by all four models are 5R rifling, Blackhawk furniture and Melonited barrels.
The example sent us for T&E was the MSR-10 Hunter in .308 Win. based on the compact version of the AR-10 first seen three years ago when it was unveiled by DPMS Panther Arms. Its 16-1/2-inch barrel sports a mid-length adjustable gas block and is sheathed in an M-Lok free-float handguard. A Blackhawk adjustable buttstock and pistol grip, Blackhawk Blaze trigger, a 20-round Magpul magazine and a generic muzzle brake complete the package. Naked, the Hunter weighs in at 7.8 pounds; with a Minox ZX5 2-10x50mm scope in Millett steel rings it weighs 10 1/2 pounds with an empty 5-round magazine.
I am constantly amazed at how accurate these guns can be, and the 5R rifling that’s standard with all four of Savage’s MSRs further enhances their potential. With Norma’s 170-grain Tip Strike, Hornady’s Precision Hunter 178-grain ELD-X and Browning’s BXR 155-grain loads, I got 100-yard, 3-shot groups averaging 0.95-, 1.15- and 1.40-inch respectively. And with the Black Hills Gold Match load, the average shrank to 0.80 inch. Most bolt-action rifles don’t shoot four out of four factory loads that well. This is a rifle with which you could hunt more than 90 percent of the world’s game without the slightest compromise.
The MSR-10 Hunter carries an MSRP of $1,481; the MSR-15 goes for $852.
Now there are those who say the last thing this world needs is another company churning out ARs, yet I’ll bet these Savage MSRs will be well received despite their being as late to the party as they are. One can’t help but wonder if Browning and Winchester can continue to ignore what has become nothing short of a revolution as to what the American hunter and shooter considers to be a sporting rifle.--Jon R. Sundra