John Nosler – Going Ballistic

By Gary Lewis

Gary Lewis Books and DVDs

1946. BRITISH COLUMBIA. The moose stood broadside, his polished antlers gleaming, body black with caked mud. John raised the rifle, found the bull in his sights, thumbed the safety to "fire" and squeezed the trigger.

At the shot, the bull shook his head. John sighted on the shoulder and fired again. 

He reloaded, pushing rounds from his pocket into the magazine. His bullets had struck, but they didn't seem to be doing damage. Now the bull quartered away and John fired a raking shot that broke through the bull's armor.

His 300 H&H Magnum launched a bullet at such high speed that the projectile's thin copper jacket couldn't contain its soft lead core. At close range, most of his shots failed to penetrate to the vitals. His rifle was TOO powerful for moose with the best bullets then available. 

At home, John puzzled over the problem. If he wanted a better bullet, he'd have to build it himself.

The life of John A. Nosler is the uniquely American story of a young boy with a gun in his hand and grease under his fingernails. He grew to manhood in a world full of possibilities, in a country poised for greatness. Life on the ranch prepared him for the challenges he would face as an adult. 

John Nosler was born on April 4, 1913 into a home that smelled of honeydew melons, homemade bread and butter in the churn. The barefoot boy in overalls learned fabrication and innovation at an early age. He bought his first car at the age of eight, sold it and traded his bicycle for a broken-down Ford Model T that he towed home with his dad's mules.

Roaming the hills west of Los Angeles, he hunted rabbits and other small game with his 22 rifle. When the stock market crashed, his family's finances went with it. He quit high school in his junior year and went to work as clean-up boy for a Ford dealership in Chino, California. 

Before long, he was a mechanic. When the shop foreman quit, he got the job. Soon he and a partner invested in a racecar and the duo took to the tracks. John was the mechanic and he watched most of the races from the sidelines.

John and his young wife Louise saved their money over the next few years and opened a Ford dealership on the Oregon coast. A sagging economy forced the Noslers to sell and move. John kept one truck and packed his wife and their new baby boy to another town and a new start.

The young couple, in the years before World War II, built a trucking business in Ashland, Oregon and it was there, when John Nosler was in his mid-twenties, that he killed his first big game animal, a blacktail deer. Trucking was good for John and Louise. Their fleet of Ford and Peterbilt trucks grew, while their deliveries took John and his employees up and down the West Coast.


In 1941, John embarked on an expedition to British Columbia to hunt moose. He liked it so well, he returned to BC every year for almost a decade. In 1946, he carried a Winchester Model 70 chambered for the 300 H&H Magnum. Toward the end of the trip, hunting moose in a marsh, he came upon a bull feeding in a patch of willows.

At the shot, the bull shook his head, and started forward. John cycled the bolt and fired again, putting the crosshairs on the animal's shoulder. The bull didn't stagger or fall or bellow or charge. Instead, he turned and trotted toward the cover of the trees. John hit him again, then again and finally saw him stumble at the impact of the fourth bullet.

John and his guide, working with their skinning knives, found that John's bullets had splattered on the hard, mud-caked hide. His 300 H&H Magnum sent its bullets at such high speed that the projectile's thin copper jacket couldn't contain its soft lead core. Though John was shooting from close range, most of his shots didn't even penetrate to the vitals. His high-powered rifle was TOO powerful to kill a moose with the best bullets then available to hunters.

There were basically two types of bullets then available: Bullets that had tremendous penetration, but minimal expansion. And bullets that expanded quickly, but failed to penetrate.

At home that winter, John continued to puzzle over the problem. It became clear that if he wanted a better bullet, he'd have to build it himself. A bullet that combined good penetration with controlled expansion. In effect, he wanted two bullets in one. On a scrap of paper, he sketched his concept, a jacketed bullet with its lead cores separated by a copper partition.


John had plenty of room to work in his old garage when all the trucks were on the road. A lathe sat in the corner beside a milling machine he had picked up in San Francisco. Since he had the tools, he decided to try to rough out a bullet with a partition.

In 1947, John brought Clarence Purdy, owner of the Gopher Shooter Supply in Minnesota, with him to British Columbia. John carried his 300 H&H, while Purdy shot a 30-06. Both hunters loaded their guns with John's handcrafted ammunition.

Clarence Purdy had the honor of taking the first game with the new Nosler Partition bullet. One shot was all he needed.

John found his bull browsing in a stand of jack pines. When he was within 15 yards, he shouldered his rifle, centered the crosshair on the shoulder, and squeezed the trigger. The bull dropped in his tracks. As crude as those first bullets were, they had held together. John had proved the value of his bullet to himself. Now he had to prove it to the world.

At the time, he didn't consider manufacturing the bullets himself, but he did want to see them made available to the shooting public. Magnum rifles were becoming more popular and it was obvious that better bullets would have to be made. 


While he looked for a manufacturer, John devoured books on metallurgy and manufacturing. His hometown library didn't have much to offer, so he began to stop in bookstores in Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles and sent away for books that other people told him about.

He flew to Washington DC to file a patent on his invention. While he was on the East Coast, he stopped at the Winchester plant in New Haven, Connecticut.

John explained his design and left a few samples behind. The engineers at Winchester were interested and John thought he had finally found someone to produce his bullet. He went home and waited for the letter to come that would tell him how much they liked it and how much they were going to pay him for his invention.

When the letter finally arrived, it told him that Winchester had decided not to spend the money. The Partition was too different from what they were making and they had no machines with which to build it. The proposition of tooling up to produce Partitions sounded too expensive for Winchester.

John was the only person in the whole world that believed in his concept enough to build it. He was fascinated with the idea and the more he researched, the more it looked like manufacturing the bullet might be profitable. A good mechanic and machinist, he knew he wasn't an engineer. But the engineers he'd met didn't know anything about bullets. 

John thought he knew something about bullets and he figured he could learn engineering and manufacturing. What followed were months of design, construction, trial and error and studying engineering texts late into the night. There were no machines to make a bullet like this. When he needed a piece of equipment, he had to design and build it himself.

When he finally had a few projectiles in production, John began sending them out to see what the gun writers thought of them.

Warren Page, Jack O'Connor and Elmer Keith sampled some of those early bullets. Page and O'Connor, in particular were big boosters. Keith was very interested and the two hunters became good friends over the next few years.

John was doing what he set out to do and soon the Nosler Partition Bullet Company was hard-pressed to keep up with demand. He had proved the Partition was needed and that it could be built and that hunters would buy it. 


Today, after 60 years in production, the Nosler Partition bullet is the standard of the industry and is used by more hunters than any other bullet.

Nosler Incorporated has stayed on the leading edge of innovation in the shooting sports. The Ballistic Tip is made for hunting varmints and thin-skinned game such as antelope and deer. Because of its excellent ballistics, it is a good choice for use on game when long shots are possible. It is a long bullet with a boattail with its weight in the rear. A sharp plastic tip resists deforming in magazines and retains its shape for utmost consistency, shot after shot.

In 2003, Nosler's engineers developed the Accubond. The new bullet employs an extruded jacket, which is thinner at the point and heavier in the mid-section. The jacket is gilding metal, an alloy noted for its ability to smoothly pass through the gun barrel. Like the Ballistic Tip, it sports a polycarbonate tip. The lead core is bonded to the gilding metal jacket by a proprietary process developed over years of research and development.

Wide expansion is seldom good for deep penetration. Like the Partition, the Accubond keeps expansion to an optimum diameter to ensure deep penetration. Like the Ballistic Tip, the Accubond has a very good ballistic coefficient, which means a minimum loss of velocity at long range. The bonded core works to tighten the group size for match-grade accuracy in a premium hunting bullet.

John Nosler loved his hunting days, and continued shooting until his death in October of 2010. His legacy will live on forever, though, in the bullets that hunters around the world continue to choose to this day.

Interested in reading the complete biography of John Nosler?

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