- Published: Monday, 01 June 2015 00:00
.308 Norma Mag
Written By: Wayne Van Zwoll
In steep Idaho forest some years back I heard the rumble of hoofbeats. Caramel-hued hide winked between lodgepoles. As the elk herd streamed by, I strained to see antlers. There! A bull! I stepped to an alley and triggered the Remington. Alas, I botched the shot! A quick second bullet struck home. I didn’t need a third, but sent it anyway because shooting until elk are surely dead is sound policy. When that bull died, he tumbled downhill into a great prostrate fir, wedged with only his back showing between hill and tree. I couldn’t budge the elk and had to field-dress from the top side in rain as night descended.
That bull fell to what I’ve reluctantly called my favorite elk round. Reluctantly because favorites are by definition personal choices, and dozens of cartridges have taken elk-size game. I’ve used 36. A few excel. Still, in my view, none beats the .308 Norma Magnum!
I’ve long thought it odd that the first commercial .30 magnum on a belted case for .30-06-length actions hailed from Norma of Sweden. High-velocity .30s date to 1913, shortly after New York attorney Charles Newton turned his hand to cartridge design. The .30 Newton, or .30 Adolph Express (evidently developed by Fred Adolph, with whom Newton collaborated) was decades ahead of its time. As loaded by Western Cartridge, this rimless hotrod spit 180-grain bullets at 2,860 fps. Today’s powders would have bettered that mark. Western dropped the .30 Newton in 1938. Not until 1960 would hunters see its equal.
That year, Norma announced its .308 Magnum. The case measured 2.56 inches, slightly longer than the .338, so it couldn’t fit in the chamber of a .30-338 – the wildcat engineered by shooters tired of waiting for a U.S. company to announce a short .30 on the .300 H&H case. Norma’s cartridge might have gained more traction had ammunition been instantly available. But its .308 Magnum (like the .358 Norma Magnum introduced a few months earlier) arrived as brass only. Ammo appeared a year and a half later, headstamped “re” to signify reloadable Boxer-primed cases. Browning alone, among American gun firms, listed a rifle in .308 Norma: the lovely High Power.
Wildcat .30s from Ackley, Wade, Mashburn and others have matched the .308 Norma Magnum ballistically, and the .30-338 followed logically the 1958 debut of Winchester’s .338 Magnum. But none of these cartridges got anywhere commercially – mainly because the .300 Winchester Magnum appeared in 1963, on the heels of the 7mm Remington Magnum. These two became popular right away, and have remained so. Ammo production in the U.S. gave them an edge at market over the .308 Norma. All three boast 400-yard reach on big game, and recoil that, while brisk, is manageable.
Nearly all belted magnums derive from the .375 Holland and Holland, circa 1912. Its offspring, the .300 H&H, popped up on the Western Cartridge roster in 1925. Alas, this powerful .30 had the 2.850-inch hull of its parent. It fit in costly Magnum Mauser actions; most others needed modification to extend the magazine and trim the feed ramp – which took steel from lower lug abutments.
From a design standpoint, many enthusiasts consider the .308 Norma the best commercial high-octane .30. Handloaders like the Norma round’s 2.56-inch case, with its 25-degree shoulder and .34-inch case neck – a match for the .34-inch mouth. Ideally, as tradition has it, neck length should equal or exceed bore diameter, to ensure proper bullet alignment. The .300 Winchester, with its longer base-to-shoulder measure, has a stubby neck: less than .28. The hull is also 2.62 inches long, so for .30-06-length actions, bullets must be seated deep. The .308 Norma comes within 3 percent of matching the .300 Winchester’s case capacity, but given the constraints of factory loads for ordinary rifle actions, the effective difference is even less.
The .308 Norma holds very little more powder than the longer .300 H&H but, factory loaded, has a significant edge in velocity. It’s more efficient than cartridges with bigger hulls like the .300 Ultra Mag. But the .308 Norma can still wring 3,100 fps from 180-grain bullets, and deliver well over a ton of energy at 300 yards. Charges of 74 grains H4831 launch 180-grain Speers at 3,125 fps from Norma cases and the 26-inch Krieger barrel on my Remington Model 78.
One of the deadliest bullets in the .308 Norma Magnum is Norma’s own 180-grain Oryx. Bonded construction makes it a star performer on elk-size game. The energy and arc assist with 300-yard shots; but Oryx also holds together at high impact speeds up close – as it did for me that long-ago day in Idaho.
This bullet won’t, however, help you field-dress an elk wedged top-side up.
Ballistic performance, Norma factory load, .308 Norma Magnum
|Muzzle||100 yds.||200 yds.||300yds.|
|Arc - inches||-1.5||+1.8||0||-8.2|
Caption: Best elk load? The .308 Norma Magnum is a top pick! Norma USA lists the fine, bonded Oryx bullet
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