If you’re a gun guy, you know the story. A moose hunt in 1946 inspired John Nosler to build a better hunting bullet. It was descriptively named the Partition and has become the standard to which all big-game bullets are, and will likely forever be, compared. Almost 40 years later, Nosler released another winner—the Ballistic Tip bullet. After that, you might say things got a bit Western. There was the AccuBond, the E-Tip, the Model 48 rifle, an entire line of ammunition and even a selection of proprietary cartridges. What no one expected from Nosler was a handgun.
The Nosler Handgun
The Model 48 Nolser Custom Handgun (NCH) is a bolt-action, single-shot handgun, built on the same action as the now famous Nosler Model 48 rifle. The NCH is built on a one-piece billet aluminum chassis that provides a completely rigid platform for the bedded action and free-floating barrel. The engineers at Nosler designed this handgun from the ground up with input from some of the most successful handgun hunters in the world. Every NCH is machined and built from parts made in the United States by the accomplished Nosler gunsmiths in Bend, Oregon.
Well-known handgun hunter Mark Hampton has published many articles and even a couple of books on handgun hunting. He has also taken more than190 species of game in 30 countries with handguns. He had this to say about the NCH: “The new Nosler handgun will keep up with the very best of them … The Nosler handgun will be most welcome with handgun hunters, target and steel shooters or anyone looking to add an exciting dimension to their shooting experience.”
Pick Your Poison
The NCH is available in six different chamberings. For varminters, there are the .22 and .24 Nosler and the 6mm Creedmoor. Competitors and big-game hunters can choose from the 6.5 Creedmoor, 7mm-08 Remington or the .308 Winchester. They each come with 12-, 13-, 14-, 15-, 16-, 17– or 18-inch, 416R Shilen barrels with proper twist rates that allow for the maximum stabilization of the highest ballistic coefficient (BC) bullets in each caliber. For those who like to shoot in as much silence as possible, muzzle threading to allow for suppressor attachment is an option, as is a Harrell’s Precision Tactical 4-Port brake.
Nosle precision CNC-machined the chassis from a single billet of 6061-T6 aircraft-grade aluminum. It is a one-piece design that will accept standard AR-15 pistol grips, and a Hogue OverMolded grip is included. The chassis is also entirely coated in Cerakote. A variety of standard colors are available, including Hunter Orange, Blue Titanium, Stormtrooper White, Desert Tan and Armor Black; or you can choose any Cerakote color to further customize/personalize your handgun. Since Nosler coated the barreled action and stock separately, you can create a two-tone finish.
Fit for You
The NCH action is the same action Nosler uses on its M48 rifles. However, for the NCH—which is a single-shot—the bottom of the receiver is solid. The bolt is, somewhat surprisingly, on the right side. Many shooters might think a right-handed bolt-action pistol should have a left-handed bolt.
However, according to Mike Lake, one of the smartest guys at Nosler, “Most right-handed folks who have not shot a bolt pistol, or have shot one very little, have the misconception that a left-handed bolt would be preferred so they can shoot with their right hand and run the bolt with their left. In reality, this does not work well, and makes little sense with a single-shot pistol anyway. Some high-volume varmint shooters who live at the bench will run the gun this way, but almost no hunters do so.”
Mike added, “Actual handgun silhouette shooters who lie on their back and shoot from the cross-legged position will tell you that a right-hand bolt is the way to go because a left bolt digs into their ribs. Other guys who think they can maintain a grip on the gun with their right hand while reloading with their left hand are actually mistaken—the bolt lift is stiff enough that the gun will flip over if you don’t support it while lifting the bolt.”
One of the coolest features on the NCH is its compatibility with AR-15 grips, allowing the owner to choose from a wide variety of aftermarket grips to customize the look and feel of the handgun to their liking. As mentioned, each NCH ships standard with a black Hogue OverMolded rubber grip with finger grooves. It actually fits the hand very well, but of course with the wide variety of aftermarket AR-15 grips available, you are free to install any you like.
As for dimensions, the NCH is available with or without a fluted barrel, and at its shortest length—with the fluted barrel—it weighs just 5.48 pounds. On the heavy side with the longest non-fluted barrel available, it weighs 6.74 pounds. For sure, that seems a bit heavy for a handgun. However, remember, Nosler built this thing like a rock in a solid aluminum chassis. Overall, depending on barrel length, it’s between 18 and 24 inches long.
Range Workout With the Nosler Custom Handgun
From the bench, the 18-inch-barreled NCH in .22 Nolster that I tested settled well into sandbags with a rear support under the pistol grip. The recoil was essentially nonexistent, partially due to the chambering and partially due to the Tactical 4-port brake. The trigger had only a minuscule amount of creep but was clean and crisp, breaking right at 2 pounds. I fired five 5-shot groups with three different loads. The average for all 15 five-shot groups was a very respectable 1.01 inches. Given those 75 shots included some called flyers, this handgun will shoot. It’s also important to note that there were no feeding, extraction or ejection issues with the NCH.
For field testing, I used the Spartan Javelin bipod and Kapita tripod. The groups I fired from prone with the bipod were a bit tighter. However, I had no trouble ringing an 8-inch plate out to a bit beyond 200 yards with either setup. Admittedly, though I’ve taken a few deer with revolvers, I’m not a die-hard handgun hunter. Still, I find it hard to imagine hunting with a handgun like this without some reliable support. Sure, you could rest the handgun over a log or a backpack, but if I were going to head into the field for small or large game with the NCH, I’d spend the money to get one of the stable field supports offered by Spartan.
The Upshot on the Nosler Custom Handgun
There’s no question that $2,495 is a steep price for a single-shot handgun. Of course, it’s questionable whether anyone other than a die-hard handgunner would even be considering the Nosler Custom Handgun. Those folks—and if you are one, you know—are serious about their craft and are accustomed to prices in this range. It’s a niche typically filled by custom builders for pretty pennies. On the other hand, if you’re looking to get into precision shooting with a handgun, whether for competition or hunting, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better place to start.
I’m not a competitive shooter, but I definitely see situations where I would opt for the NCH. Last year, I hunted whitetails along a river bottom in Nebraska. The outfitter had small, confining blinds. Additionally, most of the shot distances were inside 100 yards—well within my limitations with a handgun like the NCH. I had a bruiser of a whitetail come out of the tangle. He cruised by my stand looking for love or another buck to fight with. I don’t think he cared which one he found. I never got my rifle maneuvered around in the blind and out the window on the buck. Had I been armed with the NCH—even the longest 24-inch-barreled version—it would have been an easy task. And the way these pistols shoot, I’m confident my bullet would have found the killing spot.
I like the NCH and, based on my 300-round testing, wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. Attach a good handgun scope like a Weaver 2.5-8X, and one of the incredibly light and versatile Javelin bipods or Spartan tripods—which are interchangeable, by the way—and I think you could have a lot of fun and success in the field or on the range. For more information, visit nosler.com.
This article is from the spring 2019 issue of Ballistic Magazine. Grab your physical copy at OutdoorGroupStore.com. For digital version, head over to Amazon.