The 26 Nosler is another speedy 6.5 Creedmoor alternative.
In long range shooting circles, .264 caliber or 6.5mm cartridges have taken the world by storm in the last 20 years or so, especially for hunters looking to reach out further than ever for big game. The most popular is obviously the 6.5 Creedmoor, a love it or hate it round depending on who you ask. However, there are countless variants that have popped up in recent years that all tweak or improve on the ballistics of the Creedmoor slightly.
One of those alternatives is the 26 Nosler. It's been on the market for less than a decade, and many shooters were quick to say this rifle cartridge was so close to others already on the market that it would never last. Well, the 26 Nosler is still here, and we believe it is here to stay at this point.
Let's take a closer look at this cartridge today and see why it is likely to stick around for a while. We'll also look at some of the current rifles on the market chambered for this speed demon of a cartridge.
26 Nosler the round.
As the name implies, the 26 Nosler was developed by Nosler and debuted at 2014 SHOT Show. Engineers used the .300 Remington Ultra Magnum as the parent case and necked the cartridge down so they could increase the case capacity. This allows more powder, and as a result, Nosler was able to squeeze out some extra fps of muzzle velocity. This was the first round by Nosler to be SAAMI approved.
Like many 6.5 rounds, if you really start breaking it down in comparisons of the different hunting cartridges, there's not a lot of difference between the 6.5 Creedmoor and the 26 Nosler. The Nosler cartridge may be nominally faster by 200 to 300 fps depending on the round type and bullet weight. We could sit here all day and make comparisons, but figured it was easier just to give some data on what's available out there instead and you can judge for yourself.
One of the factory loads Nosler pushed with this round initially was their Trophy Grade 140 grain AccuBond long range ammunition. It's a boattail round with a polymer ballistic tip. You're looking at 3,300 fps of muzzle velocity that slows to about 3,100 fps at 100 yards, hitting with about 2,987-foot pounds of energy. Nosler says there is zero drop at 100 yards and only about 2.1 inches at 200. So, it's a flat-shooting round. Drop down to a 129-grain bullet of the same type and you're looking at 3,400 fps at the muzzle and 3,211 fps at 100 yards. Still more than enough to make a big hit on a game animal.
Nosler's 140-grain HPBT Custom Competition Match Point ammo should give you around 3,200 fps at the muzzle and a little over 3,000 feet at 100 yards. That drops to a still respectable 2,800 fps at 200 yards. Nosler says these rounds have zero drop at 200 yards.
There are a couple downsides to 26 Nosler we should mention. First, factory ammo can be hard to find. Unfortunately, there aren't as many options on the market, which is probably why some hunters choose to go with something like the similar 260 Remington instead. The 26 Nosler is popular with reloading enthusiasts though since companies like Hornady and Barnes offer a plethora of .264 caliber options for handloaders. Loaded with the right primers and powder, you can increase the speed of this round even more. Handloading is probably the better option anyway since factory 26 Nosler ammunition is often extremely expensive. This is not a gun you'll likely be doing a lot of plinking with.
The other downside to the 26 Nosler is that some shooters are finding the round is not great for barrel life. Mostly just because it is such a small and fast bullet traveling at such blistering speeds. It creates a lot more wear and tear and the barrel is a victim as a result. There are reports of this cartridge starts burning out barrels as soon as quickly as 2,000 rounds. Which, if you're planning on using it strictly for hunting, that's probably not a big deal. If you are planning to use it regularly on weekends at the target range, it's a factor to consider. Now, let's look at some of the current rifle offerings on the market today.
Christensen Arms Traverse
This is designed to be a serious backcountry hunting rifle that gives some incredible accuracy at the same time. Christensen Arms gives this rifle their sub-MOA guarantee. It has a 416R stainless steel barrel that is Aerograde carbon fiber wrapped. They also include a side-baffle brake that can be removed if you so choose. The barrel length is 26 inches, and it has a 1:8 twist rate, so you can expect some screaming ballistics out of this one. The stock is a carbon fiber composite, and it keeps the weight of the rifle around 7.3 pounds, extremely manageable for a backcountry hike. This rifle also has a raised comb, a 4-inch bottom picatinny rail, stainless steel pillars and spot bedding. It's not cheap, but it's sure to be a highly effective tool for big game.
Nosler Model 48 Mountain Carbon
Of course, it's hard to go wrong with a rifle built by the company that designed the round in the first place. We picked the M48 because it's designed specifically for hunting and has a lot of great things going for it as far as tough hunting conditions go. This rifle has a 1:8.5 twist rate in the 26-inch free floating barrel. The barrel is also threaded, and carbon fiber wrapped. Nosler kept the weight down on this offering down to just six pounds thanks to the carbon fiber stock. They offer it in two colors, gray or green. Nosler built this rifle for the elements by coating all the external metal surfaces with a Cerakote finish for less worry about rusting when hunting in the rain or snow. The company guarantees sub-MOA groups using their factory ammunition.
Browning X-Bolt Hell's Canyon
It appears that Browning may have recently discontinued all their 26 Nosler offerings. However, there are still a ton of these available through most online retailers that we checked. The X-Bolt is a solid bolt-action rifle platform. This one features a 26-inch barrel with a 1:7 twist rate. The barrel is also threaded. There are several different finish offerings floating around out there, but we like the burnt bronze Cerakote with an arid/urban camo pattern. It's going to be the perfect combo for most high desert environments like you might encounter hunting mule deer or elk in the backcountry. These rifles feature a short-throw bolt with a 60-degree lift for faster cycling, an Inflex recoil pad, and an adjustable feather trigger system.
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