The evening light was fading quickly, and though we’d heard the old stags roaring a long way down the valley, we knew there just wasn’t enough time for a stalk. What we did have was a group of does feeding slowly in the thick brush farther up the brush-choked valley, and my guide Koa and I were happy to take full advantage of that fact. Having tags for three does and a buck in pocket, I was ready to go to work. In the last minutes of legal shooting light, Koa spread the shooting sticks and indicated the large doe stopped 200 yards up the draw. The rifle came easily to shoulder, and the crosshairs of the Leupold scope settled just behind the foreleg. The trigger broke crisply, and the doe fell out of the scope. After the recoil, Koa slapped me on the back in congratulations, and I had taken my first head of game on the Hawaiian island of Molokai. The rifle? Nosler’s new Model 21. This one’s a winner.
Nosler is certainly most famous for its excellent line of premium projectiles, including such famous designs as the Partition, Ballistic Tip and AccuBond, but their rifles are gaining an excellent reputation as well. The Model 48 has a number of variants and is surely the flagship of the fleet, but the Model 21 is a very interesting rifle which I’m certain will become very popular in the near future. Nosler has brought in gunsmith Jeff Sipe–you might remember his name from Montana Rifle Co. fame–to head their rifle department, and Jeff has cooked up a great rifle in the Model 21. It’s designed to hunt, in that it has a svelte synthetic stock with a gently sloping pistol grip and slim fore-end, a barrel, action and floorplate covered in a gray Cerakote finish, and an overall feel that is as equally at home in a deer stand as it is in the sheep mountains.
At its heart, the Model 21 uses a dual-lug bolt in a push-feed configuration, with a plunger ejector and spring extractor. The bolt body has a unique ‘twisted’ look, reminiscent of a wrought-iron fence, with a beefy bolt handle and an octagonal rear shroud with silver cocking indicator. The bolt travels smoothly in the long-action receiver–my rifle was chambered in the speedy 27 Nosler–whether running it slowly at the bench or in the heat of the moment while making a follow-up shot at game.
There is a spring-loaded bolt release on the rear left side of the receiver. The Model 21 uses a TriggerTech Field trigger and it is smooth, with no creep or overtravel. My test rifle’s trigger broke consistently at 2 pounds, 14 ounces, according to my Lyman Digital Trigger Scale, and felt great at the shooting bench as well as on the hunt in Hawaii. A two-position safety is located on the right rear side of the receiver, and in the rearward "safe" position, the bolt can be worked to safely unload the rifle.
A hinged floorplate will release cartridges from the magazine via a release on the inside of the trigger guard. I really appreciate the fixed magazine, as it prevents me from dropping the magazine at the worst possible time, or worse, losing the magazine unknowingly and forcing the hunting party to backtrack to find it. While I understand they’re extremely popular, I’m just not a fan of detachable magazines, and therefore I appreciate the configuration of the Model 21.
Nosler has chosen a 24-inch stainless steel Shilen Match barrel for the Model 21, and it is very close to a No. 3 contour. Not too thick and not too thin, I like this contour for a hunting rifle as it is light enough to carry all day in the steepest country, yet heavy enough to settle down for the shot when needed. The Model 21 comes threaded for suppressor or muzzle brake, with the threaded muzzle protected by a knurled cap, which removes quickly should the user wish to install either the brake or can.
The stock is one of my favorite features of the Model 21, as it has the feel of a classic hunting stock, albeit in a reinforced carbon fiber format. Using a gray pebbly finish which has no checkering yet offers a firm grip, even with gloves, the stock fits well in the hand to carry in just about any position. The comb is of proper height for a good cheek weld, and the symmetrical design has no cheekpiece. The 13¾-inch length of pull culminates in a pliable Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad which takes any sting that the 27 Nosler generated out of the equation. The slim fore-end works well shooting offhand or from a set of shooting sticks, and speaking to a design feature I’m quite pleased with, the nose of the comb allows for the shooter’s thumb to wrap over the wrist of the rifle. There is a trend in other stock designs that forces the shooter to keep his or her thumb on the dominant-hand side of the stock, and I for one don’t like that.
In testing the Model 21 for accuracy, I stuck with the same scope I used in Hawaii: the excellent Leupold VX-3HD 4.5x-14x-40mm with a 30mm maintube, equipped with a CDS elevation dial marked in yardage for the 150-grain AccuBond load for the 27 Nosler at 3250 fps. It was that load I used to such good effect in Hawaii, and that this rifle liked best. Nosler offers two loads for the 27 Nosler: the 150 AccuBond mentioned above, and the 165-grain AccuBond Long Range (ABLR) at a muzzle velocity of 3158 fps. The Model 21 put three of the 150-grain AccuBonds into a group measuring .70 inch at 100 yards, and three of the 165-grain ABLRs into a three-shot group averaging .85 inch; I’d say any hunter would be happy with either of those results from factory ammo. Having seen the field results of the 150s on those Hawaiian axis deer, and having used the 165 ABLR in another cartridge of .277-inch diameter on larger game, I can tell you this qualifies as an all-around choice for North America and the vast majority of African plains game.
So, we have an accurate rifle which handles wonderfully and has all the features needed to handle just about any hunting situation. What’s not to like about the Model 21? Personally, I have no complaints whatsoever about Nosler’s newest offering. I am, traditionally speaking, a fan of controlled-round-feed actions, but will also say that among the push-feed designs the Model 21 ranks high in my estimation. Feeding, extraction and ejection were all flawless, the rifle was an absolute pleasure to use in a bunch of different hunting situations, and I think it’s a good-looking rifle. It is impervious to weather, and carried very well around the hills and valleys of Molokai, handling precision shots out to 250 yards and rushed shots from an improvised rest inside 100 yards. If the Nosler cartridges tickle your fancy–and what’s not to like?–give the Nosler Model 21 a good, long look; the rifle feels like an old friend right out of the box.
• Type: bolt-action centerfire rifle
• Caliber: 22 Nosler, 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5 PRC, 26 Nosler, 27 Nosler (tested), .280 AI, 28 Nosler, .308 Win., .300 Win. Mag., 30 Nosler, 33 Nosler, .375 H&H Mag.
• Magazine: internal box w/hinged floorplate; 3-rnd. capacity (27 Nosler)
• Barrel: Shilen match grade; stainless steel; 22"-24"; No. 3 contour; button rifled; 1:8.5” RH twist; threaded muzzle w/thread protector
• Trigger: TriggerTech Field; single-stage; adjustable pull weight 2.5-5.5 lbs.
• Sights: none, 2-piece Picatinny-style optics base included
• Safety: two-position toggle
• Stock: straight comb; carbon-fiber; gray; 13.5" LOP
• Metal Finish: grey Cerakote
• Overall Length: 44.5"
• Weight: 7.1 lbs.
• MSRP: $2,495; nosler.com