“Here,” my father-in-law, John Kascenska, said in his gruff way as he shoved a rifle into my hands. “It’s yours; I am giving it to you. It’s got some history, and it needs to be with somebody who understands that.” The rifle was a Japanese Arisaka in 6.5x50 mm (Japanese), and when I wanted to shoot it there was only one source of ammunition: Norma.
Then again, any time I encounter an oddball rifle, Norma is the first place I check for ammunition. The company makes most of the European military cartridges for those surplus rifles that were so easy to find in the 1950s and ’60s. If you have one of those old rifles, perhaps one passed down from a family member like mine, and you are in need of ammunition, Norma has a host of such cartridges, including: 6.5x52 mm (Italian), 7.65x53 mm (Belgian) and 7.7x58 mm (Japanese).
The company’s specialty is not just military cartridges, though. I love .35-cal. rifles and own at least one rifle in each of the current .35-cal. cartridges on the market. When I had a rifle built by E.R. Shaw in .358 Norma Mag., the only commercial load was, perhaps not surprisingly, from Norma. It pushes a 250-gr. Oryx bullet just less than 2800 f.p.s. and groups right at an inch. My best five-shot group is 0.6". My only regret is that no American maker chambered rifles for this cartridge back when it was introduced in 1959. If that had happened, I think a lot of you would be singing its praises along with me.
Beyond loading ammunition in both hard-to-find and common chamberings, Norma has also earned a great reputation as a maker of premium-quality handloading components, including brass cases, bullets and propellants.
The .358 Norma is a bit proprietary, I’ll admit. But suppose you have an old gun that no company has made ammunition for in years. Odds are if a major company is loading any, it will be Norma. While it does not have everything—I know, I have been looking for .351 Winchester Self-Loading without success—Norma will surprise you with what it does offer. I had an old friend who had a Model 99 Savage chambered in .22 Sav. HP. He would say that finding .22 Sav. HP is like the search for Bigfoot. You suspect it exists, but nobody credible has ever seen any actual proof. In this case, however, Norma actually does load it, just under the 5.6x52 mm R designation.
The big stuff is not ignored. If you are looking for 9.3x74 mm R, .375 Flanged, .404 Jeffery, .500 Jeffery, .505 Gibbs or a host of other cartridges that are outside of the hot 100 in popularity, odds are very high that Norma produces it.
Norma has a great reputation for high quality in both loaded ammunition and components. Not only will ammunition be available to fit your rifle, but it’s likely that it will be the highest quality ever fired from that gun. Norma doesn’t rest on its laurels, but it continues to refine and expand its product line to meet the changing demands of the shooting world.
When I participated in a driven hunt in Poland a while back, I wanted to use a cartridge that was a bit off the grid for most American hunters. It’s tough for Americans to bring guns into Europe, so one of the French writers on the hunt loaned me a Merkel Helix rifle chambered for 7x64 mm. That cartridge is often noted as a ballistic twin to our .280 Rem., but it has a certain European flair. The ammunition was Norma’s 156-gr. Oryx.
For those who don’t know, the Oryx is Norma’s bonded-core hunting bullet. I have used Oryx bullets quite a bit in several cartridges while hunting in Africa, Europe and the United States. I have used it to shoot tough game like oryx (talk about irony), and I have nothing but respect for its performance on game.
I am a big-bore guy, and I will admit I was a bit concerned about the 7 mm on this hunt. One of my companions was a writer from France with a lot of experience hunting throughout Europe. His English was spotty, but he told me that he used a 9.3x62 mm because, “When I shoot a boar, I like him to fall down dead and stay down dead. That’s not always the way with the smaller bullets.”
I’ll admit though, I wasted my worry about the performance of the 7 mm on boar. The first drive of the hunt was well past me and pretty much done when a big boar came slipping quietly back through the drivers. No doubt he had evaded hunters more than once with this tactic. But this time he made a mistake.
I raised the rifle and carefully placed a bullet through his shoulders. The boar dropped in his tracks. Before this hunting trip was over, I shot eight wild boars, some of them very big—and all using the 7x64 mm cartridge. I still like big bores for big boars, but I can’t deny the performance of that 7x64 mm on those Polish pigs. Much of that success I attribute to the bonded-core Oryx bullet.
Norma takes great pride in making what it claims is the very best ammunition on the market. I was able to see the source of that dedication to quality when I visited the Norma factory. I really appreciate such tours, because I have a mechanical background and worked for several years in manufacturing when I was younger. I am always entranced by any manufacturing facility and the process of turning raw materials into finished products. I love to gaze at the machinery and marvel at the mechanical genius that allows it to work so well.
One thing that struck me as I toured the Norma plant in Amotfors, Sweden, was how well-organized and clean everything was. Some of the older factories I have toured have been cluttered, dirty and seemed to be based on organized confusion. Not here; this place was well-ordered and well-run. It would almost have to be, as they manufacture more than 23 million cartridges in 70 chamberings each year.
Norma was founded by the Enger brothers from Oslo, Norway, in 1902. Today Norma Precision AB is owned by Ruag Ammotec AG, and its American division is named Norma USA. While its presence in the American market remains relatively small, that is likely to change as the high quality of this ammunition becomes better-known and the company introduces more loadings aimed at American consumers. The TAC line includes the popular .223 Rem. and .22 Long Rifle cartridges, and Norma also offers match loads in .223 Rem. and .308 Win.
True to character, Norma’s catalog of less-common ammunition offerings features an extensive line of African big-game cartridges, including (l. to r.): .505 Gibbs, .500 NE, .404 Jeffery and .375 Flanged.
The American PH and African PH lines cover all the other cartridges, both well-known like the .30-’06 Sprg. and not-so-well known as detailed previously. The company offers various loads featuring a wide range of Norma bullets to suit any shooting or hunting situation. One of my current favorite cartridges for ultra-long range shooting is the .338 Lapua Mag., and I have found Norma to be some of the most accurate ammunition available in this cartridge. The company even loads many of the Weatherby cartridges.
At times it’s been tough to find Norma ammunition or reloading components here in the United States. Time and again they would come on strong with some new company importing the product, only to have it fade away. It was frustrating for the American consumer who is used to finding what we want and need when we want or need it. It was frustrating for Norma as well. The American market is the largest in the world, and the company wanted to be part of that, but was having trouble getting a toehold here.
Finally Norma did what it should have done to start with; the company opened a division here in the United States called Norma USA. “Our goal here at Norma USA,” Director of Sales and Marketing Gilbert Russell said, “is to eventually offer every cartridge that Norma loads. It’s taking a while to build to that, of course, but I think that will happen soon. We will not only have all the obscure cartridges that you can’t find anyplace else, but we will have a wide range of load options for all the most-popular rifle cartridges. We don’t want to go head-to-head with the other ammunition makers by trying to sell you common cartridges with American bullets. If you want .30-’06 ammunition with a Ballistic Tip, we are not for you. There are a lot of other companies doing that very well already. But what we will offer is the .30-’06 and all the other popular cartridges loaded with a wide range of Norma bullets. That gives the American hunter more, and, we believe, better bullet options.”
Russell continued, “We are also dedicated to offering the best Norma products for handloading to the American public. Our brass cases have a strong reputation for the highest quality. Our bullets are earning the respect of hunters worldwide, and our powders have always been in demand with serious handloaders. The problem has been maintaining reliable distribution here in the United States. For many years it was hit or miss in finding our products, both ammunition and reloading components, on the shelves in American stores. We depended on other companies to import and sell our products, and that has not always proven to work well.
“We have solved that with the establishment of Norma USA. We are owned by Norma, and we import and sell Norma products. We have a mix of management that is both American and Swedish, so we have people who understand both worlds. It’s working out extremely well, and we are very optimistic about the future of Norma here in the United States.”
Norma products, both components for handloading and factory-loaded ammunition, are easy to find now; and, if quality is your goal, you should check them out. I bet you will be impressed.
For more information, contact: Norma USA (Dept. AR), (813) 626-0077; norma-usa.com.