The 26 Nosler Review, Part 2


Now for a brief ballistic digression. One of the things I learned years ago was that, in any given caliber, the heavier bullet weights outperform the lighter ones. They retain more velocity, spoil less meat, out-penetrate, and buck the wind better. I saw this demonstrated over and over in the 7mm Weatherby Magnum, which I’ve used a ton. I started with 140-grain bullets at 3,250 fps, and eventually dropped them in favor of 160s that were going 3, 050 (a mild load). The latter always outperformed the former. Thus it is in the .338 (225 or 250-grain), .270 (150-grain), and any of the big .300 magnums (200-grain).

This principle applies in spades with the 6.5mm cartridges, where the 140-grain bullet reigns supreme. I know a number of shooters who use various 6.5s for mid-range (600- to 800-yard) competition and none of them uses anything but 140s. The slug’s super-high ballistic coefficient, high sectional density, and excellent momentum make it far superior to bullets that weigh less.

Thus it was with dismay and bewilderment that I saw the initial 26 Nosler loading was a 129-grain bullet at 3,400 fps. I was baffled why the Nosler engineers would go this route, and I can only assume that they suffered blunt force trauma to the skull, or perhaps some sort of medical procedure that did not turn out well, or maybe the premature onset of senile dementia praecox. I was vastly relieved when they came to their senses and issued a 140-grain Accubond load at a claimed 3,300 fps, but whose real velocity is more like 3,160 for both the factory ammo and my handloads.

(For you handloaders, I used 140-grain Accubonds, Federal 215 primers, and lots and lots and lots of Reloder 50, a super-slow coarse-granule powder that will take you to the land of 3,200 fps with very mild pressures. The Nosler guys tell me that Reloader 30 may even be a little better as it’s faster and you don’t use it by the metric yard.)

In any event, the 140-grain load is a doozer. It is the real deal. It is a daisy, a ducky, and a lamb. Here are the trajectory figures with my handloads, taken from actual shooting at 100 yards to 500. These are not extrapolations, or calculations, or projections; they are how much the bullets drop in real life:
+3" @ 100yds
+5" @ 200 yds
+3" @ 300 yds
-4.6" @400 yds
-18.5" @ 500 yds

This matches, just about to the inch, the drop table I got from Nosler. From the muzzle to 400 yards, you have no hold over or under; 4.6 inches is just a shade more than the width of your hand, and is not going to make any difference on a big-game animal. If you want to shoot at 500, put on 15 clicks of elevation and that will take your bullet into the old boiler room. This assumes that your scope will actually deliver 15 accurate clicks of elevation when you turn the dial. If it will not, get a Nightforce scope.

Now, a few words of caution on this use of this veritable death ray. First, if you have a brain in your head you will find someplace to shoot it and see that everything checks, clear out to 500 yards or whatever distance you yearn to drop the hammer on things. Most likely everything will. Possibly something will not. The time to find out is before the shooting is for real.

Second, get a good laser rangefinder. Beyond 300 yards, my sense of distance goes to hell and so does yours.

Third, do some practice shooting. Try to get a feel for the wind, and what it does at long range.

Fourth, at $1,695, the Patriot is not an expensive rifle. This leaves you some money left over to put a good scope on it, which you must have if you are to shoot accurately. For my rifle, I went with one of the new Nightforce SHV 5X-20X x 56mm scopes, and if there is something better out there, I don’t know about it. I’m not on the Nightforce payroll, and they don’t give me free scopes, but what they build delivers, period.

More about the Patriot rifle. Nosler has built a hunting rifle, not a target gun. With the Nightforce on board, it weighs 10 pounds even, which you can carry, but which is hefty enough for precise shooting. It’s the Model 48 platform with a very good, 26-inch #2 contour barrel screwed on. The only thing about it I didn’t like was the trigger, which developed creep after a few rounds. I trust that the Noslers will make someone pay for this.

Since this is a hunting rifle and not a target rifle, and since it burns powder a shovelful at a time, you can’t shoot it in long strings without having it heat up and presenting you with all sorts of problems. I found that five shots in more or less rapid succession is about all you can do, and then it’s time to let it cool off.

You will also hear talk of limited barrel life, which is true. A friend of mine who makes rifled tubes speculates that the 26 Nosler will give you 600 to 800 rounds of first-class accuracy, and then start to slip. In a target rifle this is maybe one season. In a hunting rifle it’s a lifetime. Don’t worry about it.

If you want to join the Long-Range Legion, here’s your gun. For not a lot of money, you can turn 300 yards into a chip shot. Better than that cannot be done.