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Norma: the mother lode of milsurp ammunition.

If it weren't for Norma's pioneering efforts to supply us with some weird and wonderful metric cartridges for our milsurp rifles in the 1950s and '60s, the whole field of military surplus arms may never have reached the proportions it has today. The modern surplus bonanza for military arms really began just after WWII when returning Gl's brought home hundreds of thousands of "liberated" rifles, shotguns, handguns and who knows what.

Feeding the Mausers, Lugers and P.38s was simple. Cartridges like the 9mm Luger and 8mm Mauser were familiar trade items and often available at the local hardware store. What stumped so many potential shooters was foreign metric calibers many had never been seen before Johnny came marching home bearing a few, oddball souvenirs.

There was also an associated problem you had to experience to appreciate. During and immediately after the war, sporting ammunition of any caliber or gauge was in extremely short supply, and you could simply forget about component brass, bullets or primers. When the Korean War arrived uninvited at our doorstep in 1950, the ammunition and component situation deteriorated for several years.


Yet, resting in closets, attics, garages and mud rooms around the country were tens of thousands of Japanese Arisakas, and there were thousands of young men yearning to shoot them. If your family didn't own one, the going price for a Jap rifle was $10 to $15, but only the most well read shooter had ever heard of the 6.5x50 or 7.7x58.

Without any ammunition to feed them, various attempts were made to make them shoot. Jap 6.5s were rechambered for the .257 Roberts case, creating the 6.5x257 wildcat. Handloaders began forming the 7.7x58 cases from .30-06 brass, only to discover that the case head was undersized and swelled noticeably when fired in the Arisaka. It wasn't a happy state of affairs.

Then in the early 1950s, a little known Swedish firm, Norma Projektilfabrik of Amotfors, Sweden, began importing newly manufactured 6.5x50 and 7.7x58 ammunition loaded with their steel-jacketed, Tri-Clad hunting bullets. That one step ignited an interest in foreign surplus arms that has only grown with time. Shooters suddenly began to notice those odd military rifles stuck in closets and attics. They were cheap, often free for the asking, and now with Norma taking the lead in manufacturing hunting ammunition for them, they had a useful purpose, or at the very least, they were fun to shoot.

Until the American market was penetrated, Norma was highly focused on supplying new and reloaded 6.5x55 target ammunition to the many shooting clubs in Sweden, and the primer used was the Berdan. Switching over to the Boxer primer for the American market was a first for Norma--and as important--Norma was able to supply the American handloading market with unprimed brass with the added touch of drilled, not punched, primer holes.

American component brass at the time was all primed brass, because the primer was automatically inserted as one of the final machine operations in making cases. The problem with primed cases for the American handloader was the high cost of transportation through the Railway Express system. To keep costs affordable, large dealers were actually de-priming bulk lots of cases so they could ship small quantities via parcel post to the consumer.

New Era

Norma can take the credit for heralding in the era of unprimed cases for American handloaders. Equally important, Norma began supplying the American handloading market with properly sized metric bullets and, later, reloading powders, including their sensational MRP Magnum powder.

The early '60s witnessed an explosion in military surplus imports. These were the days of the $9.95 Carcano, $13.95 Model 1911 Swiss rifle, $19.95 Argentine Mauser, $24.95 Jungle Carbine, $24.95 Model 1917 Colt or Smith & Wesson, $34.95 M40 Russian Tokarev, $79.95 original Pattern 14T scoped sniper, $89.50 Johnson and, yes, Sweden's very own mint condition 6.5x55 Mauser rifles and carbines.

Norma didn't miss a heartbeat. Overnight we had Norma ammunition, cases and bullets for the 6.5x52, 6.5x55, 7.5x55, 7.62x54 and 7.65x53. As the brand became better known, Norma developed an enviable reputation for the quality and uniformity of their brass and bullets, and the accuracy of their ammunition. Being selected as the OEM manufacturer for the complete line of Weatherby cartridges didn't hurt Norma's reputation one bit either at the time.

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the Norma plant in Amotfors, Sweden, which is just across the border from Oslo, Norway. Now owned by RUAG of Switzerland, Norma focuses on civilian hunting and target ammunition. It currently occupies 4th place in worldwide annual production just behind Remington, Winchester and Federal.


Loading 85 calibers, from the .222 Rem to the .505 Gibbs and 300 different loads, the company also is a major player in the OEM field having made cases for Dakota, Jarrett, GECO, Nosler, Kynoch, SAKO, RWS, Winchester, Federal, Gehmann and Weatherby. Norma also now loads bullets from Nosler, Swift, Barnes, Speer, Sierra, Berger, Hornady and Woodleigh as well as their own lines of classic hunting and target bullets.

Yes, Norma's still on top of military surplus cartridge offerings, but their increasing emphasis is on high performance, big game cartridges under the African PH line that includes the .375 H&H and Flanged, .404 Jeffery, .416 Rigby and Remington, 500/.416 N. E., .450 Rigby Rimless, .458 Lott, .470 N.E., .500 Jeffery, .500 N.E. 3" and the .505 Gibbs and on high tech, match target rounds like the 6mm Norma Benchrest, 6XC, 6.5x284 and, of course, their national icon, the 6.5x55.

There is also a renewed emphasis on promoting and expanding the original Norma Magnum proprietary line, which still includes the .308 Norma Magnum and the .358 Norma Magnum. In fact, I won the running moose competition with .358 Norma Magnum chambered in an elegant Model 68 DL, Schultz & Larsen spotter.






Touring the plant, I was impressed with the constant testing and gauging carried out during Norma's production process. Down in the ballistics laboratory, you will be glad to know military surplus Krag and Swedish Mauser actions are still doing daily yeoman service as pressure gun actions.

In a couple of days of moose hunting, I saw no Swedish moose except those being hauled out of the woods on a unique, Swedish, hand-guided tractor. What did catch my eye was the use of suppressors on several of the big game rifles being carried afield. I was informed the suppressors saved one's hearing, reduced felt recoil and kept the neighbors happy!

While recently our declining dollar has not been kind to the retail pricing of Norma products, Norma is still the quality source for milsurp caliber ammunition loaded with premium hunting bullets as well as for premium quality, metric reloading components. Norma's contributions to the military surplus community are unequalled. They got us shooting 60 years ago and have kept us shooting ever since.


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Title Annotation:SURPLUS LOCKER
Author:Bodinson, Holt
Publication:Guns Magazine
Date:Feb 1, 2011
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