Skip to main content

John Nosler: The Man Who Revolutionized Bullet Design in the USA

picture of John Nosler
All photos via Nosler

Thanks to a run-in with a moose in Canada, John Nosler forever changed the way Americans design bullets. 

John Amos Nosler was born on April 4, 1913 in Brawley, California and passed away at his home in Oregon on October 10, 2010 at the age of 97.

Few other men have had such an outsized impact on the firearms industry.

As the story goes, John Nosler was hunting moose in British Columbia during the fall of 1946 when he encountered a big bull that was caked in mud. Due to the extremely thick vegetation, Nosler had to very closely approach the massive creature before a shooting window opened up.

After seven shots from his .300 Holland & Holland Magnum, the moose finally collapsed.

Nosler was initially perplexed at why it took so many shots to bring the animal down. Sure, moose are very large and tough animals, but something seemed off to him.

The .300 H&H is a hard hitting cartridge (the newer .300 Win Mag essentially duplicates the ballistics of the .300 H&H) and Nosler felt very confident with his shot placement.

While field dressing the moose, Nosler recovered several bullets and their condition told him everything he needed to know.

Those old cup and core projectiles were not designed for optimum performance at extremely high impact velocities on really big species of game.

This resulted in the bullets expanding very rapidly, but failing to penetrate deep enough for a quick, clean kill on the large, mud-caked moose.

Disappointed in the performance of those bullets, Nosler decided to build a new bullet that would perform better under the demanding conditions he encountered on that particular hunt. He wanted a bullet that would offer a combination of reliable expansion and deep penetration on game of all sizes across a wide spectrum of impact velocities.

He spent the better part of the next year experimenting with different bullet designs until he found the one he liked. John Nosler returned to Canada the next fall for another moose and tried out his new bullet with excellent results.

You've probably heard of that bullet: the Nosler Partition.

picture of nosler partition

Nosler soon thereafter started large scale production of his bullets and founded the Nosler Partition Bullet Company in 1948.

The rest, as they say, is history.

In memory of what would have been the founder's 107th birthday, we're sharing a piece written by John R. Nosler, the current president of Nosler and grandson of John A. Nosler.

He wrote the following paragraphs in memory of Big John Nosler back in 2012 for the Nosler Reloading Guide Volume 7. It is reproduced below with permission.

I think it is a well-known story, the legend of my Grandfather, John Nosler, or "Big John" as we affectionately called him throughout his life. However, for anyone who is unfamiliar with the story, the brief would read as follows: John was a lifelong hunter, a lifelong innovator, and a man who questioned everything. I was named after him, and let me tell you; trying to live up to Big John as a namesake is not the easiest task.

My Grandfather had many important accomplishments, but he is best-known for inventing and developing the Partition bullet--a bullet that has become the benchmark for an entire industry. While this feat may sound simple to some, inventing and developing the bullet (and the manufacturing systems required to produce it) was a major engineering accomplishment, all of which he did without a formal education. John was self-taught in the science of ballistics, self-taught in the art of manufacturing, and self-taught in business. 

What he did in his life was unselfish, courageous, and entrepreneurial. I don't have enough pages to give the entire account in the detail it deserves, but thankfully the story has been recorded by Gary Lewis in his biography of John A. Nosler, Going Ballistic.  

Amazon

My Grandfather and Gary spent hours on that project. I could hear him re-counting all of the stories to Gary from my office, which was about 50 feet from his. His hearing was diminished from years of shooting without hearing protection, so he would always talk in a very loud voice. Even as he aged, his memories were sharp--being able to tell in great detail the events that shaped the company of today.  

I have told many people this, but I always marveled at the fact that my Grandfather could visualize every concept in 3D. His favorite tool wasn't a computer, but a paper napkin and a black felt pen. With pen in hand, his ideas would flow onto the napkin like water. 

picture of john nosler design

His life and the company he created make an interesting story. There were many paths to choose, several forks in the road, and a long list of people that influenced and inspired him along the way.

I often think about what would have been had my Grandfather chosen a different path, or taken another road? What would our lives be like? He tried so hard to have someone else make the Partition, what if had he sold the Partition patent to Winchester Ammunition, or taken up the offer to be a minority partner with Sierra Bullets?   

What would it be like had we not sold a majority interest to Leupold & Stevens back in 1969? I wonder, would I have been brought up in such a strong hunting heritage, raised to be a staunch supporter of our 2nd Amendment rights?  

My fondest memories growing up involve days target shooting with my Grandfather and Father in a gravel pit or out in the BLM shooting cans. My first rifle was a Rogue Rifle Company Chipmunk. I still remember the day Big John came to the house to give it to me.  We practiced in the back yard, how to hold it, how to use the peep sight, proper safety practices. I remember taking photos with him and the rifle, he was so proud and I was in complete awe. 

picture of Big John and John R. Nosler

Those memories would be quite different had he chosen a different path in life, had he stayed a truck driver in California or never went on that now famous moose hunt in British Columbia. 

What if he had decided to hunt with his old 30-40 Krag or 30-30 Winchester?  After all, without the 300 H&H Magnum, the thin jacketed bullets of the 1940's and that stubborn Canadian moose, the Nosler Partition bullet would have never been invented!

picture of john nosler moose

Moving through the timeline of our company history, it is easy to see the cause-and-effect results of my Grandfather's decisions. A couple of difficult years brought scope-maker Leupold in as a majority shareholder in the old Nosler Partition Bullet Company. Because he sold to Leupold, we were able to bring on additional equipment and begin to market our product the way it needed to be. 

Proceeds from the sale to Leupold helped finance all of the impact extrusion manufacturing capabilities that are now a cornerstone of the Nosler factory.  Through our partnership with Leupold, Nosler bullets came to be loaded into Federal Premium Ammunition, and the rest is history. 

With the success of the "new" company we were catching the eye of talented people. People like my Dad, Robert (Bob) Nosler. He was out of the Navy and my Grandfather wanted him to join the company--but didn't want to force him to join the family business. He decided to let my Father make that decision on his own. 

Thankfully, he did. 

Because of my Father's sweat and blood, the family was able to purchase the company back from Leupold in 1988. Like dominos, this caused another crucial move, and his name was Chub Eastman. Chub was an important part of the Leupold/Nosler success, and when the family bought back the company, Chub came with us. Many other talented folks joined the new company, and soon we appointed our own Board of Directors to help guide our growth. 

Finally, we had control of our own destiny.

My Dad's leadership led us to partner with Winchester, then into new bullet designs such as AccuBond, E-Tip, BT Lead Free, and Custom Competition just to name a few. 

Our biggest move was into Nosler Custom products. Rifles, Ammunition and Brass were a monumental step forward for this company. 

It couldn't have been done without us going through everything in our history.  It made us who we are.

picture of nosler partition bullet company

People often ask me if I am grateful for what my Grandfather did. I can proudly say, not a day goes by that I don't think of him and say thanks for everything he and my Grandmother sacrificed, and for taking the plunge. That is the American spirit, and that is what made this country great! So, I answer "Of course I am grateful, who wouldn't be?" Fortunately, I was able to tell him how grateful I am many times before he passed in 2010.  

After reviewing my thoughts on paper for some time, I realized two absolute truths. 

First, opportunity presents itself, but only truly revolutionary individuals take that opportunity and run with it. 

Second, that all of the events leading to today were perfectly aligned. 

From my Grandfather turning down an offer to join Sierra, to partnering with Leupold, to my Dad deciding to join the company, to buying back our shares from Leupold, to creating a Board of Directors that helped guide us through uncertain times, to the advent of our ammunition and rifles, each event couldn't have happened without the one preceding it. It is all so eerily similar to a plan, a master plan, that all started with my Grandfather recognizing the opportunity in front of him.

What Big John built is a legacy. We named one of our rifles in honor of him, the M48 Legacy. It was developed by our great team, but inspired by him. He had a lasting imprint on that firearm, and I was lucky enough to show it to him just 2 days before he died. He just smiled, and I could tell he was pleased. 

That type of legacy is one that someday I can pass down to my children--if they choose to be in the company. My Dad allowed me to choose, as my Grandfather allowed him to choose, and so my children will be given the same choice. This is a family business, one that was built on the core values of faith, family, honesty, integrity, and quality. We will always strive to make a product that Big John would be proud of, and one that we are honored to put our name on. 

I look forward to the day when my Dad, Robert, can present his Grandson also named Robert, his first rifle and carry-on the legacy of Big John.

Like what you see? You can read more great articles by John McAdams on the Big Game Hunting Blog. Subscribe to his show: the Big Game Hunting Podcast.

NEXT: INTRODUCING THE NEW 27 NOSLER CARTRIDGE

WATCH

oembed rumble video here

you might also like

John Nosler: The Man Who Revolutionized Bullet Design in the USA