The author takes a look at the new Nosler Model 21 Carbon Chassis Hunter, a dual-purpose tack driver featuring the MDT HNT26 carbon-fiber chassis system.
Nosler is a company living in two eras simultaneously. It has its roots in the very dawn of the premium bullet market, with John Nosler’s development of the famous Partition bullet back in the 1940s, as well as the Ballistic Tip, which helped usher in the era of the polymer-tipped bullets we take for granted today.
At the same time, Nosler has become a company that looks forward, in their line of proprietary cartridges and modern long-range projectiles as well as their rifle division. Both ends of the equation are equally valuable, as a company that doesn’t grow will invariably wither.
Nosler has had much success with their M48 rifle—a unique push-feed design that has proven to be very accurate—and followed that rifle up with the M21. Using a receiver designed in conjunction with the Mack Brothers of South Dakota, the heart of the Nosler Model 21 is, in essence, a modified EVO action, with some customized features from Nosler.
The push-feed design uses dual-locking lugs and a beefy extractor with a plunger ejector, in a design that’s smooth as glass right out of the box. I had the opportunity to take the Nosler M21—chambered in the speedy .27 Nosler—on an axis deer hunt on the Hawaiian island of Molokai, and after using it for five days and taking three does and a buck, that rifle surely proved to be both accurate and reliable. The smooth trigger, slick action and well-fitting stock culminated in a great hunting rifle.
I must admit that after spending time with that M21, I wasn’t exactly shocked to hear from Jeff Sipe, senior marketing manager for the Nosler Rifle division, that they had adapted that M21 action to a chassis platform. The opportunities to shoot competitively have increased exponentially during the past decade, and despite the shortages of ammunition and reloading components, folks are shooting more, or at least as much as they can.
A chassis rifle—one that uses a barreled action set in a chassis with a full-length aluminum bedding block—makes a great choice for competitive shooting. However, I was surprised about which chassis they decided to cradle that Model 21 in, as well as the barrel Nosler has chosen to complete the package.
Nosler has installed their M21 in the wicked-cool MDT HNT26 carbon-fiber chassis and mated the action with a Proof Research carbon-fiber barrel, making a highly versatile chassis system that’s both ergonomic and lightweight. My test rifle was chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor—not exactly known for vicious recoil, even in light rifles—but Nosler has included an efficient muzzle brake to remove a healthy amount what recoil there is.
Starting with the action, let’s look at what makes the Model 21 Carbon Chassis Hunter tick.
Lights, Camera, Action!
The Nosler Model 21 is best described with one word: smooth. Its dual-lug bolt face has the heavy-duty M16-style extractor located at the 11 o’clock position and the plunger ejector at the classic 3 o’clock position. An attractive spiral-fluted one-piece chrome moly bolt body is nitride-coated, and the bolt handle is threaded for ease of change and customization. An octagonal bolt shroud houses a chrome cocking indicator, and the entire bolt is field strippable without tools.
A Trigger Tech Field model trigger runs the operation and is user-adjustable; my test rifle’s trigger broke consistently at 3 pounds, 3 ounces, with virtually no creep or overtravel. A two-position rocker safety is located at the rear right of the receiver, in a forward to fire configuration, and the bolt release is located on the opposite side. The M21 uses a 90-degree bolt throw, but the bolt configuration allows a scope to be mounted low without interference. For the test, I mounted a Leupold VX6-HD 4-24x52mm scope, with its 34mm main tube, in Leupold rings.
The MDT HNT26 carbon-fiber chassis system weighs in a mere 26 ounces, making it an absolutely perfect choice for the backcountry hunter, as well as for a shooter who wants to move their gun into the innumerable positions required for competition shooting. A nice square, vented forend will sit perfect in the cradle of a tripod-mounted rest yet sits nicely in the off hand or in a set of conventional shooting sticks. The protruding pistol grip has a nice swell to it, and it fit my right hand perfectly. It narrows near the top to allow the thumb to give a positive grip, and the swell lets the pad of my index finger rest naturally in the proper position on the trigger.
The buttstock of the HNT26 is very interesting, in that it’s adjustable for both comb height and overall length, and in that it folds 180 degrees to make a rifle that’s easy to pack into the back country. The toe is square and sits nicely on a rear bag—for those accustomed to using one—and while the entire package has a modernistic, angular look, it fits very well in the hands. The buttstock is filled with foam to both reduce noise (I’m often amazed at how “loud” some stocks can be in a hunting situation) and dissipated recoil. When the MDT HTN26’s butt is folded, it reduces the rifle’s overall length from 45¼ inches to a hair over 37 inches.
The polymer AICS detachable single-stack magazine is held in a well, just ahead of the trigger guard. The magazine release is cleverly integrated into the trigger guard and will not catch on clothing or brush, dumping your magazine at the worst possible moment (ask me how I know about that). Sling swivel studs are provided at the forend and butt. The MDT HNT26 comes with a length of pull measuring 12½ inches, though four ¼-inch spacers are provided that can extend the length of pull an additional inch. There’s a foam “cheek piece,” which gives a bit rougher surface for the shooter’s face and is adjustable for height. Simply loosen the two set screws on the right side of the butt, position the comb where it feels best and lock it back down with those screws.
I’m generally a traditionalist when it comes to my rifles, preferring blued steel and walnut over Cerakote and synthetic and holding a serious torch for classic cartridges, but the Model 21 Carbon Chassis Rifle’s stock is so different from what I choose to hunt with I found it refreshing. Well done, MDT, and good choice on the part of Nosler.
Over A Barrel
Rounding out the lightweight theme, a 24-inch Proof Research carbon-fiber-wrapped barrel is attached to the Nosler Model 21 receiver. A thin steel barrel is wrapped in rigid carbon fiber, resulting in a barrel that’s lighter than a full steel barrel, yet maintains the rigidity so desirable in a target barrel. Carbon-fiber barrels are also known for their ability to effectively dissipate heat, so for a rifle designed for competitive use, this makes all sorts of sense. The Proof barrel on my test rifle started at just over an inch in diameter, ending just under an inch in diameter, and featured Nosler’s proprietary muzzle brake.
The barrel was clean, without iron sights of any sort, as the M21 Carbon Chassis Hunter is assuredly designed for use with a riflescope. That brake is threaded in order to double as an adapter for a suppressor for those who prefer things quiet; sadly, here in the People’s Republic of New York, I’m not afforded such luxuries. One might think that a rifle with a carbon chassis would be a bit nose-heavy, but the Proof barrel actually keeps the Carbon Chassis Hunter a bit on the butt-heavy side, though I like the overall balance of this rifle much more than any of the modern designs I’ve spent time with.
Put It All Together, And The Results Impress
The Model 21 Carbon Chassis Hunter weighs in at 6 pounds, 8 ounces, when unloaded and unscoped; add that Leupold and a set of 34mm rings, the weight bumps up to 8 pounds, 5 ounces. This gives a good balance to the rifle and allows it to be carried comfortably.
I heard those groans you all emitted when I mentioned that the rifle was chambered for the 6.5 Creedmoor, and while I have to admit that the cartridge does feel like it’s been overplayed lately, it does make a good test medium. It used to be that a rifle was usually shipped for testing in .308 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield or .300 Winchester Magnum … but these days that trio has been supplanted by the Creedmoor. Let’s face it: It’s easy on the shoulder, plenty of gun for deer, sheep and pronghorn, makes a good target cartridge and, most of all, it’s plentiful. I grabbed a good cross-section of hunting and target ammunition and brought the Carbon Chassis Hunter to the range.
That big Leupold VX6-HD let me hold this rifle precisely and confidently; glass of this quality allows the shooter to dial in a crisp, clear image, even with eyes a half-century old. During the test firing, I had no issues with feeding or extraction, with any of the ammunition. And let me say this out of the gate: The Carbon Chassis Hunter is a shooter.
For ammunition, I chose Hornady’s Precision Hunter with the 143-grain ELD-X bullet, their Match ammo with the 140-grain ELD Match, Nosler’s own ammo with the 140-grain AccuBond and RDF match bullet of the same weight, Norma’s 130-grain Match load, and Federal’s 140-grain Fusion bonded-core softpoint load.
After zeroing the scope with a half-dozen shots, I evaluated group size, with the rifle showing a preference for the 140-grain slugs. The Norma stuff gave the widest groups—with five shots averaging exactly 1 MOA—and the Nosler AccuBond load giving the tightest, with five shots hanging in a cluster measuring 0.65 MOA at 100 yards. Bottom line is that I wouldn’t hesitate to take any one of these loads hunting or to the range—speaking of softpoints and match ammo, respectively—if they were to be loaded in the Carbon Chassis Hunter.
Recoil was at a level manageable by just about any shooter, thanks primarily to that big ol’ Nosler brake, and despite the appearance of the chassis design, I became comfortable with this rifle quickly.
Nosler Model 21 Carbon Chassis Hunter Overview
Having spent decades in pursuit of classic rifles (or at least classic designs) chambered in nostalgic cartridges—yes, I’m the nerd who gets ridiculously excited over the .300 H&H Magnum, .318 Westley Richards and .404 Jeffery—the 14-year-old side of me immediately fell for the futuristic-looking rifle. The carbon-fiber construction gives it a unique look but being completely honest, I found the ability to quickly and easily customize the lightweight rifle the most appealing feature. I added three spacers to the length of pull to make it comfortable for me with a fall jacket and raised the cheekpiece slightly for proper scope alignment.
Just to see how quickly and easily I could customize the rifle, a couple minutes with the Allen wrenches had the rifle setup so that my wife was very comfortable behind the trigger, as I shortened the length of pull and raised the cheekpiece higher to best fit the female frame.
Is the Carbon Chassis Hunter the rifle that comes to my mind when I’m planning that backcountry hunt? Well, no. Or maybe I should say “not yet.” But maybe I’m coming around. In spite of the fact that the rifle has what some will refer to as a “tactical” look (and I despise that label), when your eyes are closed it runs like almost any other bolt action rifle.
The era of the walnut stock is certainly not over, but I will admit it’s probably waning. The polymer stocks, styled in the fashion of the traditional walnut stocks, are fine, but there’s an obvious advantage in weight, rigidity and customization when it comes to a chassis design like the MDT HNT26. Couple that stock with Nosler’s M21 action and a Proof Research barrel, and you’ve got a winning combination.
The Nosler Model 21 Carbon Chassis Hunter is available in 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5 PRC (both sort action), and .28 Nosler and .300 Winchester Magnum (both long action). MSRP is $5,295 for short action and $5,395 for long action.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the February 2023 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.
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