The .33 Nosler
January 02, 2018
Nosler says the new .33 Nosler is designed to equal or surpass other cartridges in its caliber class. Based on the data from my shooting of handloads and factory-loaded ammunition, the new round seems to have achieved this goal.
Before I get into the details of the new .33 Nosler, let's take a quick look at some of the .33-caliber cartridges that have been developed through the years.
The history of .33-caliber cartridges in the United States has been spotty, and few were widely used until 1958, when Winchester introduced the .338 Winchester Magnum. Since then, a host of ever-more-powerful cartridges has become available. I think it's worth noting how the dual influences of the armchair tactical operators and what has become known as long-range hunting have fueled, to some extent, such developments.
The first .33-caliber cartridge offered in the U.S. was the .33 Winchester, introduced in the Winchester Model 1886 lever action in 1902. It fired a 200-grain bullet at about 2,200 fps, and while it was a reliable big-game round, it wasn't a powerhouse. It had a trajectory similar to that of the .30-30 Winchester.
But even back then there was a thirst for more power and heavier bullets. Eventually, Elmer Keith, a heavy-bullet maven if there ever was one, entered the arena. Along with cohorts Charlie O'Neil and Don Hopkins, in the 1930s, Keith experimented with .30-06 cases necked up to .33 caliber. They called it the .333 O.K.H. While the .33 Win. used 0.338-inch bullets, the .333 O.K.H. used 0.333-inch bullets, which at the time were only available from Jeffery in England, and supply was spotty.
The experimenters' next cartridge was called the .333 O.K.H. Short Belted, and it was made on a shortened and blown-out .300 H&H Magnum case. The .334 O.K.H. Long Belted was the full-length .300 H&H case blown out and necked up. Now they had the power, but they didn't have suitable big-game bullets.
The .338 Win. Mag. and the .340 Weatherby Magnum (1962) changed that. The similarities of the .333 O.K.H. Short Belted to the .338 Win. Mag. and of the .334 O.K.H. Long Belted to the .340 Wby. Mag. are significant and cannot be ignored. Both the Winchester and Weatherby rounds quickly became popular, and bullet companies developed tough, heavy .338-caliber bullets.
Another extremely important development in this saga is the Nosler Partition bullet, introduced by company founder John A. Nosler in 1948. The Partition has gone through numerous evolutionary changes and remains one of the premier big-game bullets. The 0.338-inch Partitions are available in 210-, 225-, and 250-grain weights. Countless head of big game have been cleanly taken with them.
Now to the .33 Nosler.
.33 Nosler Specifics
Like the .26, .28, and .30 Nosler cartridges, the new .33 Nosler is loosely based on the fat, beltless .404 Jeffery case, beefed-up to handle SAAMI-approved pressures of 65,000 psi. The .33 Nosler embodies current case design concepts thought to promote efficiency and accuracy. The sharp, 35-degree shoulder and fat case offer a lot of room for propellant, and the maximum cartridge overall length (COL) of 3.34 inches means it will fit in a standard .30-06-length action.
For this report, I obtained a new Nosler Model 48 Liberty rifle chambered for the .33 Nosler and some factory ammo topped with Nosler's 225-grain AccuBond bullet. The loading's muzzle velocity is factory rated at 3,025 fps, but it was slightly faster (3,085 fps) from my test rifle. The load develops a muzzle energy of 4,756 ft-lbs and tooth-rattling free recoil of 45.6 ft-lbs. By way of comparison, the muzzle energy of the Nosler 225-grain AccuBond load is about 20 percent greater than the .338 Win. Mag., and the velocity is slightly faster than that of the .338 Lapua Magnum.
Nosler has developed a complete set of load data for the .33 Nosler with Nosler 0.338-inch bullets that should be on the company's website by the time you read this. But as is my custom, I had to do a bit of handloading with the cartridge myself, and during that development I tried a bunch of different bullets and several powders. I've listed the results with 15 bullets and 10 powders in the chart on page 72.
While the .33 Nosler case is large, it is not particularly overbored as are smaller calibers on this case, so there are plenty of medium- to slow-burning powders that work well in the cartridge. Plus, there is an excellent selection of 0.338-inch bullets, ranging in weight from 160 to 300 grains, so the handloader can develop a load precisely tailored to the shooting task at hand.
Obviously, I used Nosler cases for all handloads. I also used CCI No. 250 Large Rifle Magnum primers exclusively. They produced consistent velocities throughout the testing. In fact, uniformity was on par with much smaller rounds, with the standard deviations of several loads in the single digits.
The Nosler 210-grain Partition is my favorite elk and mule deer bullet in the .338 Win. Mag. and the .340 Wby. Mag., which I have hunted with extensively, and it topped the chart in the .33 Nosler. Over a charge of 79.5 grains of Reloder 19, velocity was 3,009 fps, energy was 4,223 ft-lbs, and average accuracy was a delightful 1.02 inches. Close behind were the 250-grain Spire Point InterLock and 185-grain GMX from Hornady and the 250-grain Grand Slam from Speer.
My overall average accuracy for all handloads was 1.41 inches. While that accuracy isn't going to impress benchrest shooters, I consider it darn good for a rifle/cartridge combo of this power level. By the way, average recoil for the handloads was 35.8 ft-lbs. Also, the top five handloads averaged 1.22 inches with bullets weighing from 185 to 300 grains. For elk, moose, and the large bears, that is entirely adequate.
The highest velocity and muzzle energy were with the Hornady 185-grain GMX over 79.0 grains of IMR 4831. Velocity was 3,208 fps, and muzzle energy was 4,229 ft-lbs. Some powders produced rather low velocities and are obviously not well suited for the .33 Nosler, but I included them in the chart for reference.
At the time of this writing, there was just the one factory load, but the company has plans to offer a factory load with a new 265-grain AccuBond Long Range bullet. It should be ready by this fall's big-game hunting seasons. The folks at Nosler tell me the velocity will be 2,775 fps, and they note that the performance window for this bullet ranges from 3,200 fps down to 1,300 fps. The G1 ballistic coefficient of the bullet is listed at .778, so it should be just the ticket for cross-canyon shots at a 6x6 bull elk. In addition, Nosler will also offer a 300-grain Custom Competition HPBT loading (G1 ballistic coefficient of .800) at a velocity of 2,550 fps for long-range target shooting.
Before I wrap up this article, I'd like to point out some of the fine features of the Nosler Model 48 Liberty. The action is clean and gracefully contoured. The bolt body is fluted and has twin locking lugs. The extractor is a Sako type, with a plunger ejector. The bolt has a one-piece firing pin, and there are three large ports on the bottom for escaping gases should a case rupture.
The rifle has a hinged floorplate. Magazine capacity is three rounds of the fat .33 Nosler.
The trigger is crisp, clean, and easily adjustable by the user. The weight of pull on my test rifle was 4 pounds, 6.2 ounces and was so crisp that I didn't bother adjusting it.
The barrel is made of match-grade stainless steel, and it is button-rifled and then handlapped. It's 26 inches long and has a 1:10-inch twist.
The stock is a composite of aramid fibers and fiberglass. It has an aluminum bedding chassis and glass and aluminum pillar bedding. The barrel is fully free-floated, and a shadow-line cheekpiece provides a comfortable cheekweld.
The stock is straight as a string. Get this: The drop at the comb is slightly more than the drop at the heel. That means the rifle recoils straight back, and the stock doesn't smack the shooter in the face.
All metal surfaces are coated with a graphite black Cerakote finish. The stock is light gray with a black spiderweb pattern.
The rifle is very nice indeed, and the cartridge has a lot going for it. The .33 Nosler is definitely not a plinker or a varmint round, but it is a versatile medium-bore cartridge. The big-game hunter looking for power, accuracy, and long-range potential will certainly find them in this new powerhouse cartridge.