We didn’t name a “best overall rifle” of the 10 we tested during the 2022 F&S Rifle Test, but we all agreed that if we did, the Nosler Model 21 would take the prize. Instead, Nosler’s new action took the title of best hunting rifle and won it.
Why were we so in love with this rifle? Partly because it’s so well made, partly because it shot exceptionally well, but mostly because it’s the complete package — it offers just about everything you need in a hunting rifle and nothing you don’t. Since 1948, Nosler has been producing quality bullets and firearms for serious hunters, and it’s clear that when Nosler went to the drawing board to conceive the Model 21, it had some serious hunters speaking their minds.
Nosler Model 21 features and specifications
- Length: 41.65 inches by 44.5 inches
- Weight: 6.8 pounds to 7.1 pounds
- Barrel: Shilen Match Notes 22-inch or 24-inch
- Action: 4340 Chrome Moly Steel
- Cause: Trigger Tech (adjustable) 3.25-kund as tested
- Finish: Cerakote & Nitride
- Stock: McMillan Hunters Edge Sporter Stock
- Rooms available: 6.5 Creedmoor (tested), 22 Nosler, 6.5 PRC, 26 Nosler, 27 Nosler, 280 Ackley Improved, 28 Nosler, 308 Winchester, 300 Winchester Magnum, 30 Nosler, 33 Nosler, 375 H&H.
- Price: $2795.00
The action bolt body and breech piece for the Model 21 are wire EDM machined from 4340 Chrome Moly steel. The action is similar in design to the HOWA 1500 with two lugs, a track-style extractor, and a Sako-like M16 extractor. Nosler offers long- and short-action versions of the Model 21, and both are equipped with a 2.5- to 5.5-pound Trigger Tech adjustable trigger and a Shilen match-grade stainless steel barrel.
The barrel is threaded at the muzzle, with a ½-28 or 5/8-24 TPI, depending on the caliber. The bolt handle is a bit large, but is also threaded 5/16-24 TPI to accept aftermarket bolt handles and is nitride coated. Nosler Cerakotes all other metal surfaces on Model 21.
The barrel action is lined with aluminum studs on a carbon fiber McMillan Hunters Edge Sporter stock. It comes standard with a one-inch cushion back and a 13.5-inch draw length. There is a small amount of stock sag, but it’s not excessive. When mounting a conventionally sized scope – low – your eye should naturally line up with the center of the spectrum while still being able to provide a good cheek weld. It has a suspended floor plate and an internal storage capacity of three or four, depending on the room.
Gun shoots: How the Nosler Model 21 did in our test
During our Field & Steam 2022 rifle test, we fired the Model 21 120 times. This included familiarization, range accuracy testing and all shooting during practical hunting exercises. There was no problem whatsoever. But that’s only part of the story of this rifle. I actually got this rifle a few months before our rifle test and the first thing I did was start a journal. It came from Nosler with a suggested break-in procedure, and while I don’t believe a break-in determines the performance of a rifle barrel, I followed the procedure because the manufacturer suggested it.
Using the Sig Sauer 140-grain OTM load, I fired 10 shots and cleaned after each shot. I then fired 15 shots, cleaning after every three shots. Then I fired five shots, cleaned the barrel and fired a single dirty shot. Then I fired five shots for the record. The 31 shots fired during the breaking procedure yielded a group that was 1.25 inches. The five shots fired after the breaking procedure were 0.566 inches. Both groups were impressive. Since then, many more five-shot groups have been fired with 11 different loads. The average for each resting group was a staggering 0.94 inches. This is truly a sub-MOA bolt-action hunting rifle, and pound for pound, it delivers outstanding accuracy.
But there are no benches or sandbags in the field, and this is, after all, a hunting rifle. And a hunting rifle must perform when shooting off-hand and from various shooting positions in the field. When it comes to off-hand shooting, the rule of thumb with rifles is that if they are breech-heavy, they handle well, and if they are muzzle-heavy, they are easier to shoot off-hand. The Model 21 is neither butt nor muzzle heavy, the rifle balances right on the front safety screw, right between your hands. This means that not only does it handle well, but it also means that it can be hunted well in the field. Because of this, the Model 21 performed better than any other rifle we tested during the practical hunting/shooting phase of our test.
Although I thought this was a fabulous rifle, I didn’t love everything about it. For pure perfection, I would have preferred a trigger/safety system that locked the bolt when safe, a neutral or negative drop on the stock, and a different color scheme on the stock. With its black/dark charcoal base and occasional white dots, the rifle looks like it was born at the bottom of a pigeon coop. I would also like to see some other non-Nosler cartridges offered. You might say I’m nitpicking, but, well, nitpicking is my thing.
Read more: The best rifles of 2022
However, I believe that—amounts of pigeon droppings aside—the Nosler Model 21 is one of the five best rifles I have ever tested. It gave perfect performance, great accuracy, was comfortable to shoot, not too heavy and was very comfortable to carry and easy to handle. As far as bolt action rifles go, you’ll struggle to find an equal without spending a lot more money. Many hunters will go through many rifles looking for that special one. You can simply start with the Nosler Model 21 and save yourself a lot of time, money and frustration.